Elizabeth Windsor has just enjoyed her best-ever tour of Australia, mainly because of widespread admiration for her grace and dignity, as well as the way in which she has shown to us all that old age is not a barrier to effective public service. In addition, she brought some stability to our chaotic political scene by calming down, at least for a couple of days, the insults that dominate the conduct of Australia’s leaders.
The other “Windsor” who has a major bearing on the life of Australia is Tony, the Federal Member for New England. He tells me that, when he met Her Majesty many years ago at the time when he was a newly-elected independent member of the New South Wales Parliament, they had a very brief discussion about their respective family trees, but, unfortunately, found not even the slightest connection.
Like me, Tony was born on the wrong side of the railway tracks.
Right now, whether you approve of him or not, it cannot be denied that Windsor has enormous influence in the House of Representatives of the Federal Parliament, along with other Independents, particularly Andrew Wilkie (Tasmania) and Tony Crook (Western Australia). They have shown that a minority government can work, as proven by the volume of legislation that has been passed by the current Parliament this calendar year in comparison with previous ones — 254 bills in fact.
The main strength of minority governments is that they stop a Prime Minister and Cabinet from ruling by making arbitrary executive decisions without consultation — a feature that has blighted governments for a long time — requiring members just to put their hand up in support when asked to do so. Many pieces of legislation have gone through Parliament without MPs asking what the vote was about.
I have always been a supporter of the virtues of minority governments, as I have seen them work effectively in many nations. I did a lot of work in Canada in my professional years and, for most of that time, they had minority governments which worked effectively. As Canada is weathering the current economic storms just as successfully as Australia, minority governments cannot have failed too miserably. It will not be a good day when Australia goes back to majority governments. After the next election, I will be at peace if the Coalition has the chance to run another minority government, just to prove again that the system works well when a Prime Minister is not allowed to govern at will.
We need to remember that, for the first 20 years after Federation, the Australian Parliament did not have any majority governments. Prime Ministers like Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin and Andrew Fisher went into Parliament for every session not knowing whether they had a majority of supporters, yet they built a new nation and successfully fought in the Great War. They were masters of the art of consensus. Their modern counterparts would do well to study and adopt their skills.
Returning to Tony Windsor, I am pleased that he has been in a position in recent weeks to force governments to face-up to the coal seam gas controversy and seek policies that will protect our aquifers and Great Artesian Basin, while giving the gas industry a fair go.
This crucial issue has previously been swept under the carpet so as not to interfere with the flow of royalties and taxes to governments. The much needed policy change would not have happened if Tony Windsor had been negotiating with a majority government.
Many of my readers constantly inform me that the voters of New England are eagerly awaiting the chance to kick Windsor out of Parliament. He will give them that opportunity, as he doesn’t plan to retire for a while. He intends the face the music for whatever his sins may be, and he won’t take his superannuation and run away.
What we need to remember is that he became an Independent because the National Party on two occasions passed him over for pre-selection because he was declared to be too far to the left. No one should have been surprised when he agreed to support a Gillard Government. Nor should his vote for a carbon tax have been a surprise. He has been a staunch environmentalist from the earliest days of his life as a farmer, and I reckon that he will be re-elected by the voters of New England.
As for the more celebrated “Windsor,” she has a real fight on her hands to save the Commonwealth of Nations from disintegrating. The Perth Conference of CHOGM was a total waste of time and money. There is nothing that binds them together in either economic or political terms. If it were not for the respect with which she is held, it would die before sundown and the old British Empire would finally be laid to rest a half century later than it should have.