Warringah
Tony Abbott's campaign boss Roger Corbett, a former Woolworths boss and Fairfax chairman

With all the focus on Warringah’s Liberal incumbent Tony Abbott and independent Zali Steggall — who are, at this stage, virtually guaranteed the top two podium positions — Crikey takes a look at the some of the campaigners and backroom operatives behind the scenes on all sides of this tight, ill-tempered race.

Roger Corbett

The former Woolworths boss and Fairfax chairman is Abbott’s campaign chair, replacing long-serving Abbott loyalist Walter Villatora in September of last year. He’s also the chair of Woolworths-controlled pokies giant ALH — that’s the one that admitted its employees had been spying on their customers, and offering drinks to “high value” gamblers.

Apart from his business acumen, he and Abbott would seem to have some sympathy on the question of marriage equality, if his meandering, surreal interview with 7.30 back in 2017 is anything to go by.

Damien Hodgkinson

The former director of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Hodgkinson helped guide independent Kerryn Phelps in the seat of Wentworth after Malcolm Turnbull was ousted. Hodgkinson charges about $30,000 to advise would-be independents on advertising and campaign infrastructure, among other things.

This time around, he counts Steggall among his eight clients, as well as Phelps once more, and Liberal-turned-independent Julia Banks in Flinders. He’s also advising former investment banker and renewable energy developer Anthony Pesec, who is trying to dislodge Liberal conservative Zed Seselja for an ACT Senate spot.

Hodgkinson is a businessman breaking into the growth market of conservative independents, rather than an idealist, telling The Saturday Paper “I’m trying to be politically agnostic from a business perspective”.

Anthony Reed and Darrin Barnett

Hodgkinson is collaborating with Reed and Barnett, who run Watson Consultants. Reed has been an ALP member for decades, was chief of staff to former NSW Labor politician Phil Costa and has a number of family connections to the ALP. His sister, for example, is federal Labor MP Sharon Bird. Barnett is a former journalist and former media adviser to Labor prime minister Julia Gillard. Abbott and his supporters have based many of their attack ads against Steggall on the pair’s Labor connections.

Teena McQueen

McQueen is a factional ally of Abbott from New South Wales, working on his re-election campaign. McQueen unexpectedly jostled her way into a Liberal Party vice-president role in June of last year, replacing moderate Trish Worth, reputedly in part because of Worth’s earlier criticism of Abbott as a “spoiler”.

You may also remember McQueen from that time she was reportedly “disowned” by senior Liberals, including president Nick Greiner, following a quite remarkable night on Q&A in the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch massacre. During the episode, she accused Greens leader Richard Di Natale of “hate speech” and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of stealing John Howard’s ideas on gun control.

Mark Kelly 

Kelly is the founder of of the Vote Tony Out movement, which grew out of a Facebook group called “Let’s not reelect Tony Abbott”. Kelly lives in Manly and owns Global Surf Strategies — much of the fundraising the group does comes from their titular T-shirts and tote bags.

Kelly has said he does not support either major party and he is working to get Steggall elected. His page has released its how-to-vote cards, putting Steggall first and Abbott dead last. 

Louise Hislop and Kathryn Ridge

Hislop is the convener of Voices of Warringah, along with Vote Tony Out, the most high-profile and organised of the loose coalition of local organisations working to get Steggall elected. Much has been made of her apparent connections to GetUp, who have reportedly sent her “strategic advice”. 

Kathryn Ridge is Voices of Warringah’s secretary, a lawyer and former chief executive of the conservation group Surfrider Foundation. Ridge ran as an independent in the Manly state byelection after former premier Mike Baird’s resignation in 2017. She was the chief beneficiary of a 24% swing against the Libs, but it wasn’t enough to deny Baird’s replacement, James Griffin.

Gerard Benedet

Benedet is the national director of Advance Australia, the group dubbed the “conservative GetUp”. He is a Liberal lifer and worked for Abbott as an 18-year-old during the 2001 election campaign.

He was most recently chief of staff to former Queensland Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls during his unsuccessful 2017 state election campaign. Advance Australia say they have no party affiliation, but in Warringah have been very clear in their support of Abbott, mocking up billboards that make Steggall look as though she’s a Labor candidate and setting costumed sex pest Captain GetUp on her posters.

Charlie Lewis is reporting from our special Warringah bureau for the length of the election campaign. Follow his coverage here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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