The Liberal candidate for Canning Andrew Hastie has responded sharply to suggestions a by-election loss could spell the end of Tony Abbott’s leadership, saying he doesn’t have time for the “east coast Twitterati”.
The pair were full of mutual admiration as they stood side-by-side during a visit to the West Australian electorate on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek accused Mr Hastie of trying to distance himself from the prime minister.
She claimed the former SAS captain was “trying to make out that he’s running to be the president of the Republic of Canning, that he’s going to have nothing to do with Tony Abbott and his team in Canberra”.
But Mr Hastie showed loyalty to his Liberal leader while fighting off challenges to his suitability to represent Canning, previously held by the late Liberal MP Don Randall.
“I will be a thorn in the flesh to federal ministers and the state government when I represent the people of Canning,” he said.
“Mission failure is not an option.”
Mr Abbott said he looked forward to Mr Hastie, 32, offering “a lifetime of duty and service” in the federal parliament.
He believes the by-election campaign was going well, although he’s not taking anything for granted.
Mr Abbott described the dad, who recently moved from defence housing to a home in Canning, as “a bit of a mould-breaker” who “wasn’t a political staffer, wasn’t a union official … wasn’t someone who spent years and years beavering away in a party branch”.
“Just a fine Australian citizen.
“I’m very proud to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Andrew Hastie.”
When Mr Abbott was asked about the implications of the by-election result on his future as prime minister, he replied: “I’m not going to get into the entrails of gossip in Canberra”.
He was swiftly defended by the first-time candidate.
“I’m very busy on the ground – I don’t have time to take counsel from the east coast Twitterati,” Mr Hastie interjected.
“There’s a significant disconnect between what people are saying over east and what’s happening here in Canning.”
Mr Abbott said he was “very happy” to have Mr Hastie “chime in” and on what he described as “Canberra games”.
When Mr Hastie recounted a meeting with WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder to discuss road projects related to Canning, such as including extending the Tonkin Highway south and congestion on Armadale Road, he was interrupted.
A journalist who suggested Mr Hastie wasn’t “local” enough was sharply told: “Just let me finish”.
“I was a member of defence for 13 years and no one in defence is a local anywhere,” Mr Hastie said.
“I’ve gotten to know the electorate well over the past few weeks and I’m confident I’m across the issues that people of Canning are concerned about.”
The prime minister said he expected “an absolute blitz” from the Labor party and its candidate Matt Keogh as the campaign progressed.
The race for Canning looks tight, 16 days out from polling day on September 19.