The crowd kept heckling and booing throughout the debate. Picture: Damian Shaw
The crowd kept heckling and booing throughout the debate. Picture: Damian Shaw

Crowd boos Abbott’s first answer

THE hotly anticipated debate between former prime minister Tony Abbott and the woman who wants to kick him out of his seat, Zali Steggall, turned fiery this afternoon.

Audience members barely kept quiet throughout the live televised debate on Sky News held at the Queenscliff Life Saving Club, at several points booing Mr Abbott's answers.

But there was one response from Mr Abbott on electric cars that had audience members grasping their heads in disbelief.

It was Mr Abbott's criticism of Labor's electric car policy that drew the most incredulous response from the unruly crowd.

While Ms Steggall declined to back Labor's target for 50 per cent of new cars to be electric by 2030, she does support measures to make it easier to buy them in Australia and also supports tougher emissions standards on new cars.

She said Australia imported all its cars from overseas and risked being left behind as other countries shifted to electric vehicles, asking "what will we be driving?".

The crowd erupted in disbelief when Mr Abbott suggested: "Well we may very well recreate our own car industry".

"If we need them, we will make them," Mr Abbott said to the crowd's laughter.

Australia no longer has a car manufacturing industry - the last plant closed a few years ago under the Coalition's watch - and government subsidies would likely be needed to restart it.

When asked whether he thought Australia should restart its car industry, he said "I'm not because I think the world will give us what we need".

Mr Abbott is not supportive of providing subsidies to the car industry and said he did not regret not doing more to help keep the industry alive in Australia

"The government gave up subsidising Australia-made cars that the ordinary people drove ... and now people like Zali and Bill Shorten want us to subsidise expensive imported cars that only rich people will drive," he said.

"I think that's absolutely crazy."



Host David Speers had to keep asking the feisty crowd to let the candidates respond as the debate unfolded in the crucial Sydney seat of Warringah, held by the Liberal party on a margin of 11.1 per cent.

A crowd of Liberal Party supporters turned up outside the club with people holding "We love Tony" signs, butting heads with those holding signs that read "vote dinosaurs out" and "Stop Adani".

One of Ms Steggall's supporters even turned up in a dinosaur suit.


There was applause as Mr Abbott entered the room where the two were due to address an audience of Manly Daily readers. But there was an even bigger cheer for Ms Steggall, completely overwhelming Mr Abbott's reception.

There were chants of "Zali, Zali" as the debate was about to get under way, and again when it wrapped up.


The crowd outside the Queenscliff Surf Club. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
The crowd outside the Queenscliff Surf Club. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone


Zali Steggall and Tony Abbott. Picture: Sky News
Zali Steggall and Tony Abbott. Picture: Sky News


The crowd reacted with boos after Mr Abbott warned those considering a protest vote in his opening remarks to "just remember this, a protest vote will give you a Labor government".

Questions were taken from the audience, with one of the first, about climate change, proving to be the most divisive.

"We need to invest in renewables and transition in an orderly way," Ms Steggall said.

"I believe we need ambitious targets because that's the only way we can achieve big things, by being ambitious.

"We need to take action."


Zali Steggall makes her opening remarks. Picture: Sky News
Zali Steggall makes her opening remarks. Picture: Sky News


Tony Abbott makes his opening remarks to boos from the crowd. Picture: Sky News
Tony Abbott makes his opening remarks to boos from the crowd. Picture: Sky News

Climate change is a central issue for Ms Steggall's campaign.

Mr Abbott was laughed at by the crowd when he attempted a response, saying Australia outsources things to experts too much.

"Do we want experts to tell us how big our cattle herd can be because cattle are a major contributor to emissions?," he said.

He also ridiculed Ms Steggall's support for a climate change commission to get the issue out of the hands of politicians who "allegedly stuff things up".

Ms Steggall asked him whether he trusted the Reserve Bank and while Mr Abbott acknowledged it made important decisions, he said he did not want to subcontract out energy policy to "unelected bureaucrats".

In contrast, Ms Steggall got strong support when she said she wanted to take it out of the hands of the majority parties and their "hidden agendas".

"I would suggest that is because it would take it out of the control of the hidden agenda of the major parties and the coal lobby," she said.

"That is what you fear."


Host David Speers has had trouble keeping the crowd under control, asking them several times not to cheer and allow candidates to speak.

Many on Twitter are sharing their dismay at the audience for heckling while the candidates attempt to respond.

The debate became tense again when the topic of electric cars and solar panels came up.

Social media users were outraged Ms Steggall's didn't have solar panels installed yet, but she said she was in the process of doing so.

"I would like to drive an electric vehicle but I have to carry five kids around … There are many people like me who want to be able to do more but our government needs policies that facilitate that," she said.



Mr Abbott once designated himself the minister for women and he was asked how he would support working women. His answer may suprise some.

"We do need to ensure that we have more women in positions of authority," he said. "I've got to say that if two candidates were equal, I would say give the woman a go.

"But what I don't want to see is people being, as it were, penalised just on the basis of their gender."



Mr Abbott was asked why he walked out of the parliament rather than voting for same-sex marriage.

He said: "I respected the electorate's views by not voting against it".

"It's disrespectful whether you can accept that or not," Ms Ms Steggall's responded.

"The electorate felt very abandoned by Mr Abbott."

Mr Abbott was the architect of the idea of a plebiscite for same-sex marriage, proposing it back in 2015 rather than a parliamentary vote.

The people of Warringah delivered one of the most emphatic displays of support for gay marriage when they returned their postal votes. An overwhelming 75 per cent of voters in his electorate voted Yes.

But Mr Abbott left the room when it came time for parliament to vote.

During the debate, Mr Abbott said there was a plebiscite on the issue and it did bring about change in the "best possible way".

He said now that the law was changed, he accepted that it was the law of the land and would remain so.

As the candidates were asked to make their closing statements, Speers asked the crowd to "save the cheering, booing to the end".

Mr Abbott got off his stool and the small stage he and Zali were seated on, to deliver his closing speech.

He was met with applause when he said a Labor government was the last thing the people of Warringah needed.

As Speers tried to wrap things up there was loud chanting of Zali! Zali! that completely overwhelmed the room.

But as all good sports behave in debates, the pair still ended with a handshake.


While Ms Steggall stuck around to speak to supporters, Mr Abbott quickly left as detractors called out to him.

"Enjoy your retirement," one person said.

When asked whether he was surprised by his reception tonight, he told "Ah look, there was a very lively reception outside and there was a lively reception inside."

Asked whether he thought he still had a good chance of winning, he said "oh absolutely".

Mr Abbott said he would leave the public to rate his performance.

He told a Sky News reporter that "democracy was always a contest".

"I've been through a few contests in my time and I'm looking forward to this one coming to the people's choice on the 18th of May," he said.

Mr Abbott was asked whether he was surprised that climate change dominated the debate and said: "Look climate change is an issue, it's an important one, certainly not the only issue".

As he left the building his supporters used placards to form a shield around him, chanting "Tony, Tony" as he left.



Many got in costume for the event. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
Many got in costume for the event. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone