Think about the narrative of this election: Tony Abbott was deposed as Prime Minister because the Liberals felt he would lead the party to a massive loss in 2016. Obviously, Abbott wants his government to win this election, but there's got to be a part of him that wants them to fail. That wants vindication.
But things are looking bad for Abbott too. His once-safe seat of Warringah is under threat with no fewer than ten candidates are running against him, all desperate to depose the former PM. It's no wonder I can't find the bugger.
My quest for Tony began two weeks ago, when I turned up unannounced at his campaign headquarters in Manly. The security was almost Dutton-esque. But at least Tony's staff at least let me in for a chat.
They wouldn't tell me where Tony was that day, which is fair enough I suppose, but I left my details and they promised to pass them onto the media guy. I spent the next two weeks staring at my phone, waiting. I didn't eat solids in case my mouth was full when he called.
After a fortnight, I figured I should try again.
When I got to pre-poll in Manly, I found out I'd just missed him again. It wasn't even midday yet, so I was fairly surprised he'd clocked off early. The Manly pre-poll station wasn't as chaotic as the Parramatta one, sadly. Nobody was shouting about hydroponics on the moon or talking race eugenics.
There was the usual legion of volunteers, plus a few actual candidates. Labor's Andrew Woodward and former Australian Idol host James Mathison were among the throng, offering their sales pitches to anyone who got close: "James Mathison, let's make Warringah matter." "Andrew Woodward, Labor, standing up for Medicare and climate change."
But despite the air normality, something was amiss. Where was Tony? Was Tony in trouble?
I turned to Mathison to get his thoughts on the very absent former PM. "There are things he said that still rattle in my head," Mathison tells me. "That it was the most compassionate thing to stop the boats. Forget the long-term psychological damage being done to those people. Also I want more Muslims to speak out against terrorism and mean it .
"I cannot stand the way he's divided this country."
Mathison was clearly frustrated, and it's a frustration shared by the electorate. Polling suggests that Tony's primary vote may drop below 50 percent. Although he'd need to drop a lot further below that to lose the seat on preferences, it's not really a good look for a former prime minister.
This might explain why residents have been receiving letters and robocalls from Malcolm Turnbull—of all people—begging people to stick with old mate Tone. It might seem weird given the strained relationship between the two, and the fact Abbott loyalists don't like Turnbull one bit. But the Abbott loyalists are still voting for him anyway. Turnbull is being deployed to win back the moderate Libs.
"Turnbull can't afford to lose a single seat in the lower house," one volunteer told me. "Also, if the Libs lost Warringah, it would be a disaster psychologically."
What I did learn, hanging out at the Warringah polls, was a lot about VICE's audience. When the young Liberal volunteer asked who I wrote for, he admits he's never heard of VICE, but promises he'll check it out later. "We'll see where this article lands. I'm guessing it'll be pro-Labor," he says.
Just so you know though, James Mathison is a reader. "Nobody in in the lower house reads VICE," he says, "But I owned the VICE Guide to Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll."
At that point Andrew Woodard, candidate for Labor, lept at an old guy walking past. The old guy blowed a raspberry at him and Woodward shrugged. "You've got be polite," he says, watching the man go. "Don't bite back." I wondered if he was saying that to me or himself.
The other night, Woodward did a forum with Tony, and he couldn't believe how much abuse the former PM got. "I felt sorry for him, he was copping so much shit. I got booed, but he got booed and hissed. Before the other night, I didn't know there was a difference."
"I said to him, 'Mate, why are you doing this again?' but I got one of those silly Tony laughs: eh eh eh . You know the one," Woodward imitated. "He's either bulletproof or just dumb."
At that point I asked Woodward his thoughts on Mathison's race. "James hasn't thought it through properly. If you're going to run, you've got to put a lot of intellectual thought into it," he said. "He's a lovely guy, well-intentioned, but he hasn't thought it through."
It's obvious Mathison's celebrity appeal is a big factor, and even he doesn't deny this. A large number of people were very happy to see him. A middle-aged woman laughs with joy at the fact that she's talking to him, and finds more than a few opportunities to touch his arm.
Woodward wanted to switch the conversation back to Tony. "The thing is, Tony is MIA," he continued. "He hasn't achieved anything. He said himself his era is over, and he sees his future as a standard bearer for the conservative wing of the party.
"He's using Warringah as a parking spot, and a lot of Liberals are pissed off."
With 24 hours to go before election, Tony Abbott was nowhere to be seen. Either he was so confident in a win he thought he didn't need to make a last-second appeal to voters, or it was so dire that he thought it best he didn't show his face.
One way or another, we'll know real soon.
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