The hunt is on for a high profile candidate to ‘do a Wentworth’ on Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott. Getty Images.
  • Veteran MP and former PM Tony Abbott, who has been re-endorsed as the Liberal candidate for Warringah at the next election, appears to be facing a growing push from multiple grassroots campaigns to unseat him.
  • The hunt for a high-profile independent candidate, like Dr Kerryn Phelps, with appeal to moderate Liberal voters is believed to be under way.
  • Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull faces a push to be expelled from the Liberal Party after he followed an Instagram account campaigning against Abbott.

A push to field a high-profile independent candidate to run against former prime minister Tony Abbott in his northern Sydney seat of Warringah at next year’s federal election appears to be gathering pace after more than 600 people turned up to an event in Manly organised by activist group GetUp.

GetUp is just one of the groups leading the campaign against the veteran MP, who’s held the seat since 1994.

The Guardian reports the information night at the Manly Senior Citizens Club, which promised details on how to campaign against Abbott, saw the room packed to overflowing, with 75% saying it was their first GetUp meeting. More than half of them were over 50.

GetUp is planning to doorknock the electorate next month, and the search for a moderate candidate with the appeal of Dr Kerryn Phelps, who won Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth from the Liberal Party for the first time in 117 years, is believed to be under way.

The GetUp intervention is part of what appears to be a grassroots movement against Abbott. The Guardian reports that a number of micro-campaigns against the MP are also under way.

Manly resident, marketer and businessman Mark Kelly launched the “Time’s Up Tony” campaign on social media, printing T-shirts with the slogan, having originally begun to agitate with the slogan “let’s not re-elect Tony Abbott” back in March.

This week he morphed it into the more aggressive slogan “Vote Tony Out”, with an accompanying T-shirts and merchandise website, launching an Instagram account that featured former surfing world champion Layne Beachley saying “It’s time to go Tony”.

“We need a leader who is open to protecting and preserving our coastlines and natural resources,” Beachley wrote on the account. “We want a leader who is willing to represent the majority of views and ideals instead of projecting their own strongly held beliefs. A leader that listens to the community, serves the community and connects with the community.”

Launched on Monday, many noted that former PM Malcolm Turnbull, his wife Lucy and son Alex were among the account’s first 100 followers.

Turnbull follows just 127 accounts.

Just two days later, and with just five posts featuring local residents wearing the T-shirts and putting their case against Abbott, the account now has more than 10,200 followers.

Kelly told Business Insider that he launched his campaign out of frustration and to start the conversation about who represents them.

In Warringah, there’s not only a movement against the Liberal Party, but also against Tony Abbott. When 75% voted for gay marriage and remember he didn’t stand up for them in Warringah, he’s sort of undermining democracy in many ways,” he said.

Kelly says that right now he’s focussed on “helping to build the tribe of people looking for a better option” and the demographics of the electorate have changed dramatically since Abbott first became the local member.

“A lot of young people live in Warringah now. The average age of voters now is 38,” he said.

As for the right candidate to take on the former PM, Kelly says people “are lining up in the background” but are wary of the cost of a six month campaign and potential attacks from the MP’s supporters in the media.

“There are some people lining up. When the time is right in the new year, I think they will stand up,” he said.

Meanwhile, The Australian reports that the Roseville branch of the Liberal Party – part of the federal seat of North Sydney – passed a motion to expel Malcolm Turnbull from the party, 16-2, on Tuesday night.

Sources told The Australian that Turnbull following the @votetonyout account was one of the reasons.

The matter will now head to the Liberal federal electorate conference for a vote, which if passed, would then need to be ratified by the state council.