Olympic skier Zali Steggall to challenge Tony Abbott in Warringah at election

Ms Steggall expected announcement will come after a cascade of negative news for the Coalition, with Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, Human Services Minister Michael Keenan, and Aboriginal Affairs Minister and National Party Senator, Nigel Scullion, announcing over the past week they will be retiring from politics at the next election.

Meanwhile, there is speculation about the future of former industrial relations minister, and strong Malcolm Turnbull supporter, Craig Laundy, who is the Liberal member for the marginal Sydney seat of Reid, and former foreign minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop. Ms Bishop is the Liberal member for the Perth seat of Curtin, and commands a whopping 20 per cent plus majority.

Ms Steggall’s expected move to run in Warringah as an independent also follows other setbacks for the Coalition, including the October 20 victory by independent Kerryn Phelps in Mr Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, the decision by Victorian Liberal backbencher Julia Banks to join the swelling ranks of cross-benchers as an independent, and the retirement of NSW Liberal back-bencher Anne Sudmalis from the NSW regional seat of Gilmore.

The victory of Kerryn Phelps, a former AMA president, in Wentworth, on a small ‘l’ liberal platform of support for same sex marriage and a demand for action on climate change, combined with a conservative approach to budget matters, is broadly the same policy template for Ms Steggall’s planned campaign. It will be reinforced by advice from figures who helped Dr Phelps in her successful Wentworth campaign.

Aged 44, Ms Steggall is Australia’s most internationally successful alpine skier, winning a bronze medal in slalom at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and a world championship gold medal in 1999.

Born in Manly, which lies in the heart of the Warringah electorate, Ms Steggall lived in France for much of her childhood where she became a champion skier. Her Olympic career spanned a decade, starting in Albertville, France, in 1992, and ending in Salt Lake City in 2002.

She has practiced as a barrister in Sydney since 2008, is on the board of the exclusive Queenwood School on Sydney’s North Shore, is a director of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia and the Sport Hall of Fame, and a member of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency.

Over the past few months several groups have sprung up to oppose Mr Abbott in the electorate, including Voices of Warringah, Think Twice Warringah, People of Warringah, Vote Tony Out, and North Shore Environmental Stewards.

In the 2016 federal election there was a swing against Mr Abbott but he still retained the seat with 61.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Mark Kelly, who runs a pro surfing business, established the Vote Tony Out on-line site, which feature on Facebook and Instagram, and includes endorsements from figures like former world surfing champion Layne Beachley and environmentalist Tim Flannery. He is a key figure behind the Steggall campaign.

Mr Kelly did not return the Financial Review‘s phone messages.

Tony Abbott, the former leader of the Liberal Party, has held Warringah since 1994. Mark Nolan

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