Nick Xenophon's Campaign To Boot Tony Abbott From Warringah

'At a gut level, people have had enough of him.'

26/05/2016 12:11 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Video by Emily Brooks & Tom Compagnoni

There's a bitter campaign brewing on Sydney's North Shore, as challengers push to oust Tony Abbott from the seat he has held for more than two decades.

The former Prime Minister won 61 percent of the primary vote at the 2013 poll, and 65 percent on a two-party basis. He has been the Member for Warringah since 1994, and by all accounts is a genuinely popular figure in his seat, which takes in the well-to-do suburbs of Neutral Bay, Mosman and Manly; but the Labor Party, and Nick Xenophon, are trying to spoil the party.

As Abbott faces his first election since the unpopular decisions and events of his Prime Ministership, and since he was cut down from the top job by Malcolm Turnbull, his opponents are hoping the public ill will carries until election day. A recent Fairfax story claiming infighting in the Warringah Liberal branch, and rumours Abbott may not see out his full term and instead take up a foreign diplomatic posting, was no doubt music to their ears.

Andrew Woodward, the Labor candidate for Warringah, has filled his Twitter page with an anti-Abbott scare campaign, tweeting under #TonyTimeToGo and asking supporters to "stop the second coming" of the former PM.

Woodward directs his supporters to StopTonyAbbott.com, which directs to a crowdfunding page for his campaign.

"People from all over Australia want Tony Abbott defeated so we can bring to an end, once and for all, this nasty era of Australian politics," he wrote

"I have started this crowd funding campaign so together we can defeat Tony Abbott; his backward thinking and his hard right ideology."

He's also putting together a meme or two.

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On the other side is psychotherapist Marie Rowland. She's the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate in Warringah, with Xenophon himself choosing the seat to launch his 'Swap The Votes' campaign over the weekend -- a take on the Abbott three-word-slogan "stop the boats" -- to persuade voters to choose a minor party.

Rowland told The Huffington Post Australia she entered the race "out of sheer dismay" regarding Abbott, after being "one of many disenchanted voters in Australia and Warringah."

"I felt the former PM and sitting member does not represent any of my values, and is operating on a platform that would have been fine for the 1950s but in modern day Australia, does not apply," she said.

"I think this electorate has never been as vulnerable as it is now. It's the shift you'll get from small-l liberal voters. People here won't move all the way to the left, to Labor or Greens, but they may stop in the centre. The kind of personality he is, the way he split the party, has caused great distress for liberal voters."

Of course, while she talks up her chances, Abbott is in a pretty safe position. As mentioned, he's the incumbent who won with two-thirds of the vote. Warringah has never been held by a woman since the seat was established in 1922, and it has only ever been held by Liberal or Nationals politicians. That isn't daunting Rowland, though.

"Tony Abbott has become quite unpopular, his momentum is not there with him. I've got the most incredible welcome from Warringah, I've been getting favourable responses," she said.

She brings up the photo of Abbott cutting a lonely figure at a ferry wharf several weeks back, handing out pamphlets alone in the rain, and a later video which saw a passer-by yell abuse at the former PM.

"The response Mr Abbott got that day was heartbreaking, then there was that video of a young man calling him a homophobe. It wasn't in the spirit of civility but it shows the anger and disappointment people feel toward him," Rowland said.

"The antipathy toward him is palpable. They don't want to say anything bad about him, but emotionally they don't have much regard for him, and he's not the right person for the job any more. At a gut level, people have had enough of him."

Of course, the NXT is a party on the rise. Xenophon, with immense popularity in his home of South Australia, is expected to pick up as many as three Senate spots in that state, with potentially a House of Representatives seat and chances of snagging a seat or two in other states as well. The NXT may establish itself as Australia's fourth major political player -- behind Labor, the Coalition and the Greens -- and Rowland said she was relishing being part of the team.

" The two-party system is, for want of a better word, broken," she said.

"Whatever happens, this is a party that will be a formidable force."

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