Speaking to supporters at the Manly Leagues club in Brookvale, an upbeat Mr Abbott said: “Once we had the result in the Wentworth byelection, six months or so back, I always knew it was going to be tough here in Warringah.
“And I can’t say that it doesn’t hurt to lose. But I decided back then, in October of last year, that if I had to lose, so be it. I’d rather be a loser than a quitter.”
Enormous cheers greeted this statement, among a sea of blue-shirted supporters in an ebullient mood, expecting an overall Coalition win.
Speaking to a euphoric crowd at her victory party, Ms Steggall said hers was a “win for moderates with a heart” and a result that showed “there is no such thing as a safe seat in Australian politics”.
“Warringah has definitely voted for the future,” she said.
“We have a new beginning for our environment. I will be a climate leader for you.”
Ms Steggall, who campaigned strongly on a platform of climate change, promised to hold the new government to account to “make sure we take action on climate change” for the benefit of future generations.
“I will work collaboratively with all sides of politics so we can achieve results and we can focus on the future and a positive discourse for generations to come.”
Ms Steggall paid tribute to Mr Abbott, describing him as a dedicated servant of his electorate.
“Nobody can doubt his community spirit, his work ethic and his contribution to this community and I wish him well,” she said.
Speaking with The Sydney Morning Herald after the win, Ms Steggall said she was prepared to work with whichever side formed government.
In the event of a Coalition victory, she said she would be tough on Prime Minister Scott Morrison with regard to climate policy.
“At the end of the day, the Coalition government has signed up to the Paris agreement. And Scott Morrison throughout the campaign has said that he does believe in climate change,” she said.
“I will work very hard to push him to take action to preserve our environment.”
Abbott seemed to claim a victory of sorts, telling supporters: “Of course, it’s disappointing for us here in Warringah, but what matters is what’s best for the country. And what’s best for the country is not so much who wins or loses Warringah, but who forms, or does not form, a government in Canberra.”
Mr Abbott congratulated Ms Steggall on her “magnificent win” and acknowledged the “fierce and ultimately successful campaign that has been waged by my political opponents”.
On climate change, Mr Abbott was unrepentant.
“Over the next few days and weeks, I suspect there will be a great deal of analysis of the part that climate change did, or did not, play in the Warringah outcome. And let me just say this, as my first word, if not necessarily my last word, on this subject,” he said, to laughter from the crowd.
“Where climate change is a moral issue, we Liberals do it tough. But where climate change is an economic issue, as a result, tonight shows we do very, very well.”
Mr Abbott seemed not to rule out a comeback to politics.
“My public life will, I imagine, go on. My life as member for Warringah will not.”
Mr Abbott thanked the people of Warringah and said Warringah was “the place I will continue to serve”.
Jacqueline is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.