Abbott comment that sparked anger

 

Tony Abbott was grilled during a Sky News pub test on Thursday night in his blue-ribbon seat of Warringah - and despite being given a head start with the absence of his main opponent Zali Steggall, his response to the final question drew an angry response from some punters.

Asked about housing affordability and the cost of living by a young punter who grew up on Sydney's northern beaches, Mr Abbott divided the crowd when he blamed immigration numbers for the increased cost of living.

"I think every generation worries about it's job security and whether it can afford a house. I certainly worried about it. In the end the best thing a government can do is provide an economy that's strong … a strong economy maximises job opportunities... and that's why tax should be low and regulation should be low. Innovation should be encouraged and all the rest of it," he said before his answer took a turn.

"(But) You know what's depressing wages at the moment? You know what's sending house prices and rent up? It's immigration."

A woman yelled from the crowd: "Oh f**k off! You're a migrant, Tony!"

"Now, I am in favour of immigration. We are an immigrant country. But that doesn't mean we have to have immigration at the all time record level we've seen over the past decade. I would scale back immigration."

It was a response that drew jeers and cheers from the crowd of 100 at the Hardbord Beach Hotel in the beachside suburb of Freshwater.

 

Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, United Australia Party candidate Suellen Wrightson (middle) and Greens candidate Kristyn Glanville speaking at the Harbord Beach Hotel.
Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, United Australia Party candidate Suellen Wrightson (middle) and Greens candidate Kristyn Glanville speaking at the Harbord Beach Hotel.

Mr Abbott was joined on the panel by Green's Kristyn Glanville and United Australia Party's Suellen Wrightson at the forum, where they were grilled by voters.

Independent Zali Steggall and Labor's Dean Harris did not appear at the event, with Ms Steggall telling the Manly Daily she would only attend forums organised by local community organisations.

The seat of Warringah is a key election battleground in Sydney's northern beaches, where Mr Abbott has been the sitting MP for 25 years. Ms Steggall is the former prime minster's main competition and her absence was immediately noted ahead of the broadcast.

"Zali! Where is she?" a local yelled out to host Paul Murray as Mr Abbott was ushered up to the panel and greeted by voters with cheers.

Mr Abbott’s immigration comment caused some anger.
Mr Abbott’s immigration comment caused some anger.

Questions from voters focused on local hot button issues like The Beaches Link Tunnel and surf club funding as well as broader issues of free trade, live exports and left-wing activist group GetUp.

Earlier in the day, Mr Abbott told 2GB's Ben Fordham his priority was to build the elusive Northern Beaches Tunnel - regardless of whether he's the Member for Warringah or not.

"I'm never going to retire until this tunnel is built. There's no way on God's Earth," he said.

The long-awaited tunnel is at least five years away on current construction schedules, Mr Abbott said.

The former PM has been the local member for Warringah since 1994, serving the region for a quarter of a century, meaning Mr Abbott could count three decades in parliament if he waits for the tunnel.

 

Tony Abbott cutting a ribbon to Brookvale campaign office launch. Picture Jonathan Ng
Tony Abbott cutting a ribbon to Brookvale campaign office launch. Picture Jonathan Ng

 

It's been two months since Zali Steggall, Australia's most successful alpine skier, formally announced she would take on Mr Abbott at this year's federal election.

Ms Steggall, who became a barrister after representing Australia four times at the Winter Olympics, officially made the bid on the Australia Day weekend and has been campaigning ever since for the North Sydney seat.

Standing as an independent candidate for Warringah, Ms Steggall is already well-resourced and well-liked.

Mr Abbott knows he's up for a fight, telling Fordham he was campaigning hard ahead of the May 18 election.

"There's absolutely no doubt that, at the moment, I'm the underdog," he said.

"There's absolutely no doubt that, as things stand, I'm going to be way outspent by Getup, the Unions and covert Labor operatives coming into the seat."

Speaking to news.com.au last week about the looming election, locals had varying opinions about their options in Warringah, most admitting while they weren't a fan of Mr Abbott they still wanted to vote Liberal.

Some of the same locals admitted they were unaware Ms Steggall was even running against him.

"I don't follow politics, but I definitely won't be voting Tony," Chris, a local cafe owner, said.

"I don't get a good feeling about the man, but I don't know anything about Zali which makes things difficult."

Anti-Abbott groups have been active in the former prime minister's federal seat with the best known - Vote Tony Out group - even throwing its support behind Ms Steggall.

"He's a dinosaur," Dr Nick Scott, a Vote Tony Out group member told The Project last week. "And come the election in May, we hope such dinosaurs will become extinct".

 

Mr Abbott and Zali Steggall Independent candidate for Warringah at a Leadership Summit last month.
Mr Abbott and Zali Steggall Independent candidate for Warringah at a Leadership Summit last month.

 

Ms Steggall's idea to first run against the former PM even came from a Vote Tony Out T-shirt.

"I did start with a Vote Tony Out T-shirt, and that was what really got me thinking of where were we going and what choices did the electorate have," Ms Steggall told The Project.

"People are excited to have a choice, and that you're there to listen to them."

In 2016 Mr Abbott won 51.6 per cent of the vote on first preferences alone to easily win the seat. In 2013, when he became prime minister, his first preference vote was more than 60 per cent.


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