Politics: Hung Parliament and Tony Windsor

Let’s move on now to Tony Windsor, another of the conservative Independents currently holding the fate of the nation in their hands. Windsor is the member for New England, which is not, as some might think, in the USA, but is in fact a rural electorate in far northern New South Wales.

Windsor appears to have been an Independent from the start, and consistently beats the Nationals in a formerly safe National seat. He started off in the NSW State Government in 1991 and moved to the Federal Government in 2001. He is a primary producer (farmer) with a degree in economics, and he is incredibly popular in his electorate – he got 71% of the primary vote in 2007 – though it’s actually really hard to find out exactly what he stands for from his site. Apparently “Tony’s goal is to make all Members aware of the impact of Legislation on country communities and particularly the New England Electorate.”

Here’s a bit more of his CV:

During his time as a State MP, Tony was a member of numerous NSW Parliamentary Committees including the Agricultural and Rural Affairs, State Development and Tourism, and Conservation and Land Management Back Bench Committees, the NSW Joint Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman, the Parliamentary Select Committee upon the Sydney Market Authority, the Select Parliamentary Committee on Bushfires, the Standing Committee on Public Works and the Joint Standing Committee on Small Business. Following his election to the Federal Parliament, Tony has been appointed twice to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and is currently a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.

Tony has been a strong campaigner for issues affecting regional areas in New South Wales and since 1996 he has been the Convenor of the NSW Country Summit. The first Summit was held in Tamworth in November, 1996 and a second Summit was conducted in Wagga Wagga in March 1998. Several hundred delegates representing approximately 180 organisations from across New South Wales have participated in the Summit process and have been attended by representatives of the major political parties including the New South Wales Premier and Leader of the Opposition.

The key areas discussed included Rural Health, Impact of Government Decisions on Country New South Wales, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure, Location of Government Agencies and Services, Land Use and Environment, Cost of Business, Law and Order and Education and Youth Affairs….

Since entering the Federal Parliament, Tony has convened three Vision New England Summits held in Armidale in 2003, 2005 and 2009. Delegates from a diverse range of community groups and organisations from across the Electorate attending the Summits have submitted issues of concern affecting residents in the New England Electorate. Topics discussed include matters relating to health, education, communications, community services, employment, social and cultural heritage, public liability insurance, occupational health and safety, disability services, skills shortage, taxation, government services, regional development, rural industry and transport infrastructure. Resolutions aimed at addressing these issues have been agreed upon with excellent progress being made to address these matters and, in many cases, positive outcomes achieved.

A little googling provides more information, including the amusing headline ‘Tony Windsor will work with anyone but Barnaby Joyce’. I do wonder what Barnaby (who leads the National Party in the Senate) has been doing to piss off all the Independents who would normally be his natural allies.

He is very, very committed to better telecommunications for regional Australia. This is a huge issue, and one that might do Labor some good (Windsor apparently told the Nationals that they need to “grow some backbone” on the subject, and vote in line with regional interests, not just along Liberal Party lines, pointing out that nobody expects the Liberals to care about rural Australians, but that country Australians expect better from the Nationals). Here are his further remarks on the subject:

“We have lived in a time, in the last century at least, where distance, smallness and remoteness have been disadvantages. We have seen a series of governments move towards concentrating people in more or less a feed-lot mentality in our cities,” Windsor told the House during debate last week on the telecommunications reforms.

“The development of a national broadband network will break that nexus. Where you live will become less relevant to your capacity to do business, or be competitive, or to deliver health and education services to our young people, our families and our elderly.”

You know, while Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott are all billed as ‘conservative independents’, I’m getting a very real sense that they are not one bit impressed by the Nationals. In fact, according to itwire.com

There are not many MP’s who enjoy the kind of popularity as Windsor, who banked 71 per cent of the (two candidate-preferred) vote at the last election.

And there are fewer still that the National Party would like to smother with pillow more than Windsor.

He has been a thorn in the Nationals side since even before he won New England from the Nationals incumbent Stuart St Clair – ending an unbeaten run for the party since 1922 (and it’s Ian Sinclair’s old seat for goodness sake, one he held for 35 years.)

Then there was the touch-up Windsor gave the then Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson – a bun-fight still unresolved, in which the MP accused Anderson of offering him a diplomatic job if he agreed to get out of the parliament. Nothing was proved, except that all these blokes have bad tempers.

So when Tony Windsor starts saying things like the Nationals should “show some independent spine” on the Telstra issue, you know he’s picking a fight.

Aha! And now I’ve found a stash of press releases. Excellent. Apparently, in the lead-up to the election, Windsor pointed out that independents and the Greens might well end up with the balance of power, and offered to debate Gillard and Brown. That, I would have liked to see. Especially as it turns out he was dead on the money about the result. Windsor also supported the Medicare Dental Health scheme, and he really, really hates the Coalition’s telecommunications policy. This makes me happy. The more things these independents hate about the Coalition, the further away we get from an Abbott government.

On the mining tax, Windsor actually took the trouble to run a poll in his electorate and report back on it, and found that most were either undecided or against it, although most supported the Government’s other tax reforms. His conclusion was that “The mining tax needs more work both in its detail and in its explanation if it is to be supported by the community.”

Windsor has quite a good press release on the subject of health reform, which is in a PDF and too long to quote, but can be downloaded here. It’s also reflective of his general manner which I’m finding is surprisingly sane and well-thought-out as a rule. He seems to take his mandate as an independent seriously, and appears to consult his electorate a fair bit. It isn’t hard to understand why he is so popular.

I’m actually beginning to feel cautiously hopeful about this election after all.

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