THE man likely to be Australia’s next prime minister Tony Abbott has gone on the offensive in support of his embattled colleague Sophie Mirabella on election eve.
In an unprecedented move, the Coalition leader did a ring around of local media including The Border Mail yesterday in an attempt to shore up support for Mrs Mirabella, who is under genuine pressure to hold on to the safe seat of Indi.
She has held Indi since 2001 and will be a cabinet minister under an Abbott-led Coalition government.
But support for cashed-up independent Cathy McGowan is growing across the electorate and online bookmaker sportsbet.com.au last night had the independent favourite at $1.80 ahead of Mrs Mirabella on $1.90.
Mr Abbott said Indi voters had to weigh up whether they wanted a cabinet minister or an independent who would not figure in a minority government.
“I know (Ms McGowan) is putting in a strong challenge to Sophie Mirabella,” Mr Abbott said.
“I also know that if there is a change of government Sophie Mirabella will be in the cabinet.
“If I was to be prime minister and there was to be a change of government, I would give every member of parliament, Labor, Liberal, independent, whoever, a polite and respectful hearing.
“But there is a world of difference between someone in the cabinet and someone who is not.”
Mrs Mirabella holds Indi by a margin of 9 per cent and Ms McGowan would need a healthy primary vote and a perfect storm of preferences to oust the sitting member.
Mr Abbott’s call comes after a succession of high-profile visitors to the electorate including Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Barnaby Joyce and former treasurer Peter Costello.
Asked if he considered coming to Indi, Mr Abbott said: “I have been doing my best for the Coalition right around the country.
“The best I can do is remind people if they want to avoid another three years like the last six they have to change the government.
“The only way to change the government is vote for the Coalition.”
The Mirabella and McGowan camps have also engaged in an advertising blitz with the independent camp’s fund-raising efforts of close to $140,000 rivalling the $170,000 available to the incumbent before the campaign started.
Mr Abbott said the country couldn’t afford another three years of a hung Parliament.
“If the people of Indi want a strong and stable government they should have a strong and effective Coalition member,” he said.
“She has a strong independent challenger and it happens from time to time.
“We’ve had independents who basically wrecked the last Parliament and the last thing we want is more independents in the next parliament.”
Ms McGowan said the sudden interest in Indi by Mr Abbott showed the value of an independent.
“The interest from Mr Abbott in the electorate obviously shows an independent can create change,” she said.
“We have run a great campaign with over 560 active volunteers and have had an incredible response from the community.”