Warringah: tit for tats and micro-campaigns

Duelling+shopfronts+in+Sydney%27s+Cremorne+Junction

Photo: Lachlan Moffet Gray

Duelling shopfronts in Sydney’s Cremorne Junction

It’s getting uglier in Warringah… and it has nothing to do with the Sydney electorate’s harbourside, coastal or leafy scenery – or its mostly well-to-do, well-educated residents.

What’s causing locals to recoil in disgust, is the almost “Game of Thrones” like battle between incumbent MP and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and independent candidate and former alpine skiing golden girl, Zali Steggall.

Their campaigns have been marred by claims and counter-claims of dirty tricks, push polling, unsolicited sampling and weaponised social media.

Predictions of who will ultimately claim Warringah’s “Iron Throne” on May 18 – co-incidentally, the night before the fictional GoT victor is revealed – depend largely on the newspaper or website you read.

Jack Berkefeld takes this deep-dive into what has turned out to be one of the Federal Election’s key battlegrounds.

The Battle for Warringah

Official campaign photos.
Liberal Tony Abbott and Independent Zali Steggall

Liberal, Tony Abbott, has been the Federal MP for Sydney’s North Shore and Northern Beaches seat of Warringah since 1994. But this election isn’t panning out to be as smooth as his previous contests.

Mirroring trends in other formerly safe Liberal seats such as Wentworth and Indi, a strong showing by a centre-right, well-known, local independent candidate running a grass-roots campaign, could unseat the incumbent.

Even the former Prime Minister himself has noted the ascendancy of Zali Steggall – who’s considered a serious threat to Mr Abbott’s political future.

While maintaining a conservative economic focus, Ms Steggall is promising greater action on climate change, accusing Mr Abbott of being out of touch on the issue.

Social and environmental issues are largely behind the many grassroots micro-campaigns that have emerged. Such groups now include; The Voices of Warringah, #thinktwicewarringah, People of Warringah (POW), Vote Tony Out and the North Shore Environmental Stewards.

Mr Abbott is the better known candidate and is now positioned sixth on the ballot – above Ms Steggall who drew eighth in Wednesday’s (April 24’s) draw. At a grassroots level, he’s supported by the conservative Advance Australia group, which has been going head-to-head with left-wing lobby group, GetUp!


RELATED STORY: GetUp! pulls “insensitive” election ad


There were signs earlier this month that the anti-Abbott campaign was working, with internal Liberal Party polling reportedly predicting a 12 per cent two-party preferred swing against the seated member. Mr Abbott’s two-party count at the last election was 61.6 per cent – just enough to be considered “safe” by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

The two-party threat is irrelevant if Mr Abbott wins the primary vote – which he always has. His share in 2016 was 51.45 per cent. It would need to fall below 45 per cent for any two-party swing to unseat him.

Electorate Snapshot

Photo: Lachlan Moffet Gray
The heart of Warringah – Manly Beach

MP: Tony Abbott – Liberal Party (since 1994)

Size: 68 sq km

Location and Boundaries:  Parts of the Lower North Shore and parts of the Northern Beaches. Starting from Neutral Bay and Mosman in the south, moving north east across the Spit Bridge into the suburbs of Seaforth, Balgowlah and Manly, then further north along Pittwater Road into Brookvale and Curl Curl. Its north west boundary takes in Killarney and Allambie Heights.

Warringah’s boundaries were redistributed by the AEC in 2016, just before the last Federal Election. This was part of a continual process to update the shape and size of electoral divisions across Australia, to ensure the even spread of voting populations.

Warringah’s geographical change was limited, with only the northern part of Cremorne excluded and absorbed into the neighbouring seat of North Sydney. The redistribution had minimal political impact according to the ABC’s election analysis of the 2016 poll.

Population: 147,333, (48.2% male, 51.8% female)

Demographics: The people of Warringah are generally upper-middle class, with an above-average median level of education and income.

According to 2016 Census results from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the electorate’s median weekly household income was $2384, compared to the national median of $1438. While 42.3 per cent of Warringah’s population had obtained a Bachelor degree level of education or above, almost twice the national average of 22 per cent.

The most common occupations in Warringah were: professionals (34.4%), managers (21%), clerical and administrative workers (12.5%), community and personal service workers (8.3%), and sales workers (8.2%). The median rent for Warringah was $580, compared to the national median of $335, and the median for monthly mortgage repayments was $2970, almost twice the national median of $1755.

Warringah voters are slightly older, with a median age of 39 compared to the national median of 38. The largest age groups in Warringah at the time of census were: 40-44 year-olds (8.4%),  35-39 year-olds (8.1%) and 30-34 year-olds (8%).

Like the rest of Australia, the average number of children per family was 1.8m while couples with children made up 48.6 per cent of Warringah’s population.

The most common ancestries in Warringah during the 2016 Census were: English (28.5%), Australian (19.9%), Irish (9.9%), Scottish (6.4%) and Italian (3.2%). This was broadly reflected on a national-level with the exception of Italy, which was replaced at No. 5 by China.

Photo: Lachlan Moffet Gray
The view from Beacon Hill.

Political Tendencies and History: The AEC describes Warringah as a safe Liberal seat.

Tony Abbott has held Warringah since winning the seat in a by-election in 1994. Prior to this, Warringah had been held by a member of the Liberal Party, or one of its predecessors, since the seat was established in 1922.

It has never been held by a woman.

– Story: Jack Berkefeld  @jackberkefeld1 Pics: Lachlan Moffet Gray @LachlanMg, Intro: Sue Stephenson @susanstevo