The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - JOE KELLY

A shock protest vote against Tony Ab­bott’s en­dorse­ment in his longheld seat of War­ringah is be­ing used by lo­cal branch mem­bers as a sig­nal that the for­mer prime min­is­ter must make the next parliamentary term his last or risk be­ing aban­doned by the party.

The se­cret bal­lot con­ducted on Fri­day has not been re­leased, de­spite calls for the re­sult to be made pub­lic, but The Aus­tralian un­der­stands at least 27 of about 93 votes went against Mr Ab­bott. Some sources at the meet­ing sug­gested there were as many of 38 votes against Mr Ab­bott. The for­mer prime min­is­ter con­ceded a vote of 30 per cent against him.

Lib­eral mem­bers in the seat said the oust­ing of Mal­colm Turn­bull had dam­aged Mr Ab­bott and the pre­s­e­lec­tion process — held sev­eral weeks ago and in which Mr Ab­bott was the sole nom­i­na­tion — would have been con­tested if it was held af­ter the Au­gust 24 coup.

The Aus­tralian has also con­firmed that two in­for­mal votes were lodged in the bal­lot con­ducted by the ex­ec­u­tive of the elec­torate’s 19 branches as re­flected in May, be­fore elec­tions for new of­fice bear­ers were held.

A sec­ond meet­ing to hold a bal­lot for the of­fice bear­ers of the War­ringah Fed­eral Elec­torate Con­fer­ence, which saw Wal­ter Vil­la­tora re­placed as pres­i­dent by for­mer Wool­worths chief ex­ec­u­tive Roger Cor­bett, was also held on Fri­day night at the Bal­go­wlah RSL in Seaforth.

This vote was con­ducted by the new ex­ec­u­tive of the seat’s 19 branches, which re­flected sub­stan­tial growth in the Young Lib­eral branches in Manly and Mos­man. Two new vice-pres­i­dents were elected, in­clud­ing long-term pop­u­lar branch mem­ber Lee Fur­long, who beat Mr Vil­la­tora by 60 votes to 44, and for­mer young Lib­eral pres­i­dent of NSW Alex Dore.

Mul­ti­ple sources said if the new ex­ec­u­tive of the 19 War­ringah branches had voted on Mr Ab­bott’s en­dorse­ment, it was “highly likely” the party could have top­pled the for­mer prime min­is­ter’s hold on War­ringah and forced the pre­s­e­lec­tion to be re­opened.

“The two Young Lib­eral branches had grown ex­po­nen­tially to have much greater im­pact on the sec­ond meet­ing,” one source said. “If the same peo­ple had have voted on Tony’s en­dorse­ment, he wouldn’t have got through.

“There was such a high protest vote that peo­ple now think Tony will lose the gen­eral elec­tion in War­ringah. This shows that it is Tony’s last term. Peo­ple are very upset with the lead­er­ship spill.”

There is also an ex­pec­ta­tion that Mr Ab­bott will have to mount a stronger lo­cal cam­paign at the next elec­tion, given his pri­mary vote dropped to 51.65 per cent in 2016 from 60.9 per cent at the 2013 elec­tion when he de­liv­ered gov­ern­ment to the Lib­er­als.

Mr Ab­bott strongly dis­puted sug­ges­tions that up to 38 peo­ple voted against his en­dorse­ment amid spec­u­la­tion of nine in­for­mal votes and only 46 votes in his favour. Mr Ab­bott said he won roughly 70 per cent of the vote, a party spokesman telling The Aus­tralian: “Mr Ab­bott was en­dorsed with a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity” — an ac­knowl­edg­ment of a protest vote of 30 per cent.

Some lo­cal branch mem­bers are out­raged that the re­sult of the en­dorse­ment bal­lot has not been made pub­lic, with for­mer se­na­tor and party el­der Chris Pu­plick, who par­tic­i­pated in the vote, ask­ing for the numbers at the meet­ing af­ter Mr Ab­bott was en­dorsed.

The re­quest was de­nied and The Aus­tralian un­der­stands the vote was not re­leased dur­ing the pre­vi­ous en­dorse­ment meet­ing ahead of the 2016 dou­bledis­so­lu­tion elec­tion.

Un­der rule changes, the next pre­s­e­lec­tion process would be thrown open to any mem­ber of a branch in the War­ringah FEC who has been a mem­ber for at least two years, ex­pand­ing the po­ten­tial vot­ers from a field of about 100 to 700.

Some Lib­eral in­sid­ers say this would work against Mr Ab­bott by giv­ing the Young Lib­eral branches, which are larger than other branches, a con­trol­ling share of the plebiscite model.


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