The resurrection of Tony Windsor

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(Image via abc.net.au)

Windsor taking New England off Barnaby Joyce would be a bigger blow to the Coalition than Howard losing Bennelong to McKew in 2007, writes Jonathon Ireland.

IT'S FUNNY how things change in politics.

In 2013, when he announced he would not recontest his seat of New England, Tony Windsor’s political career looked dead and buried, his fate sealed from the moment he and fellow independent MP Rob Oakshott announced that they were giving Labor the numbers it needed to form government.  

His card was marked. Despite the statistical evidence suggesting it was one of the most successful legislative parliaments of all time, the public turmoil of the Labor Government and the sheer destructive venom of the Abbott-led opposition cemented the impression that Windsor and Oakshott had sold the country out. He was culpable for every policy failure, every controversy.

The outrage of his electorate was palpable — Windsor had betrayed the interests of an electorate that had never once voted in a Labor member. Across the country he became a soft target for conservatives looking for a pariah. When Barnaby Joyce decided to move to the lower house, the game was over. Windsor bowed out.

If only for hindsight

Hindsight is like that unwanted guest at your party who insults your taste in wine, drinks more than their fair share of it and then asks for a lift home to skimp on a taxi. Unwanted, rude and, sadly, not all that wrong. Someone is at the door Australia — it’s Hindsight, he’s drunk and he is ready to dance on the marble tabletop in your lounge room.

I think it is fair to say that the Abbott Government was one of the most disastrous in Australia’s history. From the moment parliament’s public face of misogyny appointed himself Minister for Women (that’ll shut ‘em up), the Government lurched from manifest policy failure to ministerial controversy to Captain’s Call stupidity. Treating Australians for morons, it attempted to hide its utter incompetence and anaemic paucity of substantive long term policy behind, exaggerating the threat of ISIS and holding press conferences in front of enough national flags to fuel a Cronulla riot.

I detest both the major parties but Abbott and his right wing cronies have dragged discourse and progress in this country to a whole new low over the past half decade. They are destructive, morally (if not financially) corrupt career politicians with no skills beyond filling the pockets of their political paymasters. Gina Rhinehart and Rupert Murdoch seem to be the only Australians who have benefited under this Government.

Which brings us back to Tony Windsor

When Windsor and Oakshott gave their press conference detailing why they were forming government with Labor in 2010, they made it quite obvious that their primary reason was that they felt it was in the best interests for the country. It was made quite apparent that the Coalition actually offered them far better terms to form government, such was the extent of Abbott’s naked ambition to be Prime Minister (an ambition which far outstripped his ability to perform the role). What did the independents see that made them go against political convenience and superior pork-barrelling for their electorates?

This is what got lost in the three years of controversy that followed. For all of the public eviscerations of Tony Windsor, people overlooked that he turned down more funding and signed the death warrant on his political career in supporting Labor instead of the Coalition. He and Oakshott considered the Coalition simply too dangerous and too caught up in myopic conservatism to be capable of effective governing. Considering what followed, the chickens really came home to roost on that one.

This brings us to the present. Windsor, this morning, announced that he will contest the seat of New England in the upcoming federal election. If Windsor’s political career has been resurrected for a purpose, he has made it abundantly clear that he has unfinished business with the right wing of the Coalition. He laid the blame for the stasis of government clearly at the feet of Abbott, Joyce, Abetz, Bernadi, Bishop and the like. If they aren’t scared, they should be. Windsor taking New England off Barnaby Joyce would be a bigger blow to the Coalition than Howard losing Bennelong to McKew in 2007.

I wouldn’t rule it out either

Despite all the controversy and public vitriol directed at Windsor, polling suggests he still would have picked up 38 per cent of the primary vote in New England in the last election — not enough to beat Barnaby but enough to force the count into preferences. The support for Labor which cost him so much support, has made him look prophetic as this Government has wallowed in its own cronyism and incompetence. Concerns about the impact of mining and coal seam gas to agricultural land and the Great Artesian Basin have pushed farmers to the left in a way unforeseeable even five years ago.

Suddenly, green groups and farmers have more in common then they have ever realised. The "hippies" are more useful than the farmers thought and the farmers aren’t as "scorched earth back-country hicks" as green groups thought. Inner city lefties and farmers are chaining themselves to farm gates and bulldozers. Meanwhile, Barnaby is taking lunch with Gina Rhinehart and seemingly doing nothing to stop the enormous Shenhua Mine in Gunnedah. If you think moral concerns about marriage equality come before a farmer’s love for their land, you have obviously never met anyone west of the Great Dividing Range.

Barnaby is in huge trouble

Sadly, the rest of the far right of the Coalition are not. They may be the very reason Turnbull can’t govern effectively. They may well be the very reason the Coalition loses power next election. But their control of the party apparatus mean they will be the last ones to pay. The conservatives occupy the highest positions on Senate tickets, guaranteeing their re-election – Cory Bernadi was #1 in South Australia last election, Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells are #1 in Tasmania and NSW respectively this election. In the Lower House, conservatives like Abbott and Bishop occupy seats that have never changed party.

Moderates occupy safe seats too, but far more moderates are in marginal seats that will be lost in the slightest national swing. The irony is that the electability of the Liberal Party is utterly dependent on the moderates who are by and large the face of the party — the Malcolm Turnbulls and Julie Bishops, yet the conservatives seemingly control the party apparatus and restrict the ability of the moderates to govern in a way most Australians would like them to. That isn’t the biggest irony in this whole charade, though. 

The ultimate irony is that it is the conservatives have gamed the system to the extent that they stand to benefit the most from the inevitable electoral backlash which will follow. Barnaby might be in trouble in New England but it is mostly moderate Liberals who will lose their seats to Labor over the Government’s pathetic stalling of marriage equality. Regardless of whether the Coalition loses government or is returned to power, the conservatives will actually be in a stronger position in the Coalition party room than they were before the election. If you were hoping the election would usher in a more progressive approach from the Coalition, then you are sorely mistaken.

Windsor fired a shot across the bows of the Coalition this morning. The leader of the National Party is in serious trouble but it is going to take more than just Tony Windsor to bring down this conservative juggernaut.

You can read more from Jonathon Ireland on his blog, The Young Contrarians, or follow him on twitter here

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