Why Zali Steggall is taking on Tony Abbott in Warringah

Why Zali Steggall is taking on Tony Abbott

The Federal election is yet to be called but the battle for the seat of Warringah, in Sydney’s northern beaches, began in earnest months ago.

The incumbent is the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who has held the seat since 1994. His primary challenger is former Olympian and barrister Zali Steggall who is running as an independent.

Over the weekend Fairfax Media reported that internal Liberal Party polling is “diabolically bad” for Abbott who could face a 12% swing against him. The once ‘blue ribbon’ seat is under threat.

A few weeks ago we sat down with his opponent, Zali Steggall, to record a podcast where we got to know a little bit more about the former alpine skier who describes herself as a ‘moderate’ in terms of finances and economic policies but socially progressive.

So, what prompted her to throw her hat in this particular ring?

“I’ve gotten more despairing the older I’ve got at the lack of representation. My career at the bar has allowed me to see the differences in opportunities between men and women,” she says. “So when I started to focus on the upcoming election, I started to be anxious at the lack of choice and as the debate started to move towards the lack of female representation, I was really inspired by Dr Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth. I really felt that if someone like me is not prepared to stand up – I’ve got a profile, I’ve achieved for Australia and I’ve made sporting history, I’ve had a professional career for 10 years, I’m a working mum, I know what it takes and I’ve lived in the area my whole life. If I’m not prepared to stand up and contribute to the electorate then who is?”

Was she hesitant?

“There was that moment of concern when you think about how nasty politics has gotten of late and you are putting your reputation at risk and exposing your family to a nasty system,” she says. “But I wouldn’t say, I was afraid. I’ve always been up for a challenge and don’t shy away easily. I tend to make my mind up quickly and proceed down that path.”

She says the people of Warringah are really ready for change and believes that her candidacy has been well received in the area.

“They are excited at the opportunity to change and choose. There is the sense of being abandoned by the government and that the moderate centre has disappeared,” she says. “In terms of the issues, people want their lives to be easier. They want a clean environment, a good future for their children, they want more efficient transport, they want better access to health services, child care facilities and after school-care facilities. The average age of the electorate is 38, so there is a focus on those young family issues.”

For Steggall the issue of gender equality is paramount and lip service is not sufficient.

“You can only really be actioned by your words,” Steggall says. “Tony Abbott says he is a champion of women because he has daughters and I’m sorry but that doesn’t make you a champion for women. What are you contributing that means women will have equal opportunities?”

Tony Abbott is famously dogged: no one would ever expect an easy fight against him and Steggall certainly isn’t. But it’s worth noting that her own fortitude – mentally and physically – is pretty extraordinary and she is approaching this election in the way she approached sporting contests.

“My husband and I were always fitness enthusiasts. We got in to ultra marathon running a few years ago where you are out there for 17 or 18 hours at a time running. What’s really interesting about these events is that you can’t just turn up and be unprepared. You will break down if you’re not prepared. You need to be adaptable. You have to adjust your expectations. These events are a real parallel to life,” she says. “You go into a zone where you really have time to think and feel and enjoy the environment. There are times where you want to quit but you have to dig deep. I’ve approached the campaign in the same way. There’s a very specific goal in mind and I’m working towards it.”

You can listen to the podcast to hear our whole conversation. 

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