Tony Windsor has made a decision that will change the political culture of Australia and instigate a long era of minority governments.
He will challenge Barnaby Joyce for the Seat of New England in the 2016 Federal Election and he has a better than even chance of winning, as do lots of independents across the nation.
It is a contest that should have occurred in 2013 except for a disabling illness that hit Windsor at that time, but is now under control due to the right medication being found. At the same time, his daughter was diagnosed with cancer and he made the correct decision to spend quality time with her. The good news is that she has won the battle.
I have known Tony Windsor personally for many years and we chat regularly by phone, so his decision does not surprise me. He started thinking about a comeback when the chaotic reign of Tony Abbott disturbed him so much that he felt he would serve Australia well if he had a role in getting rid of him.
I remember vividly a conversation we had when Windsor decided to back Gillard over Abbott in 2010. He stated emphatically that he rejected Abbott as a flawed leader more so than he embraced Gillard. He believed him to be unstable, an assessment that has since been proved correct.
When Turnbull took over, he reserved his judgement as he reckoned Malcolm deserved a fair go at proving himself to be the right choice as PM. But, it was soon obvious that Abbott was not going to give Turnbull any chance to prove himself. This, together with Windsor’s growing concerns about mining near the best agricultural lands in Australia, undisciplined fracking for gas, water contamination, the growing delays with NBN and his strong support for Gonski Education reforms, tipped the scales.
And so it is on. Tony versus Barnaby. David versus Goliath. The last of the great Gladiators. Who will win?
May I say first of all that I regard Barnaby as a friend too. I helped him win his National Party Senate seat in Queensland from the Liberals and am pleased I did. He is one of the best retail politicians I have ever seen. He loves being out on the campaign trail fighting the good fight. He is far less happy behind a desk. It is just not his scene. He has also never been too enamoured with the discipline of party politics either. So, he will put up a very colourful fight and can never be written off. Windsor will know he has been in the battle of his life.
Nevertheless, Barnaby has some major difficulties to overcome.
There is a rapidly growing legion of angry voters out there and they are spread right across Australia. They are utterly disenchanted with politics and the political establishment and want to ‘shaft them mightily’ in Donald Trump style.
Barnaby will cop their backlash. As Deputy PM, he clearly represents the establishment. Windsor does not.
Additionally, Tony has a vast network of dedicated volunteers right across the electorate. They have been faithful to him for decades and will turn out again to run a highly personal grassroots campaign. Even with the passing of the years, they will provide him with a minimum of one third of the vote.
Add to this the image of Turnbull not actually looking like a bloke who understands the bush and Barnaby’s problems compound.
Then, there is the ALP. They will run dead to ensure that Windsor finishes ahead of them so he gets all their preferences.
It all looks bad for Barnaby, but only a fool will write him off, especially as the Coalition will raise a lot of city money for his campaign so he is in a position to outspend Tony mightily. This is a huge factor in Barnaby’s favour.
Given the state of the polls nationally, it is not without possibility that Windsor, and other Independents, will hold the balance of power. My guess is that in this situation he will not sign an agreement of support with either side.
This is actually a great election for Independents in the House of Representatives. They will all get the anti establishment vote in huge quantities. McGowan will easily beat Mirabella in Indi and Xenophon’s team will pick up at least two seats in South Australia, including the seat of Christopher Pyne. Dick Smith is a certainty to beat Bronwyn if she is endorsed.
These are heady game changing days.
And the cornerstone of the change is the tightening of the Windsor knot in New England. His victory will shake the establishment to the very core.
Yours at Large,
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