Independent-mindedly tilting the balance
Windsor’s Way By Tony Windsor MUP, 246pp, $32.99 In the early 1990s Tony Windsor, as the independent state MP for Tamworth, kept Nick Greiner’s minority Liberal government in power in NSW. In 2001, he was elected the independent federal member for New England.
All in all, the likable, plain-spoken Windsor experienced 22 years in two Australian parliaments, and won seven elections as an independent. Moreover, his vote was pivotal in two crucial balance-of-power situations: one favouring Greiner; the other, in concert with the loquacious independent MP for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, supporting the minority Labor government of Julia Gillard.
The fact that in two hung parliaments Windsor first supported a Liberal and then a Labor government seems to some commentators and ex-politicians, including Gillard, a testimony to his integrity and genuine independence — qualities rare these days in Australian politics.
In this intriguing book, Windsor charts his sometimes torturous, often courageous political path, which began with him, as a young branch member, moving a no-confidence motion against the then leader of the National Party, and ended with his decision not to contest the
May 9-10, 2015 2013 federal election. Indeed in his punchy political memoir, one of Windsor’s main messages is that citizens in regional and rural Australia should never allow their votes to be taken for granted by any of the main political parties. He argues, convincingly I think, that if country people continue blindly to support one major party or the other, they will not exercise any real or lasting power or command much parliamentary influence.
A highlight of Windsor’s Way — which provides many insights from a dedicated political insider — is Windsor’s detailed analysis of how he and Oakeshott, and to a lesser extent the maverick independent member for the vast north Queensland seat of Kennedy, Bob Katter, conducted a rigorous 17-day assessment of Tony Abbott and Gillard’s promises after the indecisive 2010 election.
Because almost no one in Australia then wanted another federal election, and with the independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie having announced his support for Labor, there was suddenly, as Windsor puts it, “this substantial opportunity for three country people holding the balance of power to shift the way that regional issues were addressed”.
The processes by which these three amigos made up their minds about which party and leader to support makes for fascinating reading. This is despite the fact that Windsor tends to underplay the intelligence, determination and dedication of Katter, who, unlike Oakeshott and Windsor, ended up supporting Abbott.
The most contentious sections of the book deal with Windsor’s assessment of the Australian media. To my mind, he unfairly questions the independence of this paper’s Peter van Onselen and Peter Hatcher of The Sydney Morning Herald. He also attacks Alan Jones, claiming the radio star is in thrall to “his Liberal masters”.
On other hand, Windsor is laudatory in his assessments of Don Watson, Derryn Hinch and, wait for it, John Laws, whom he describes as “the master of talkback radio”, an appellation I think more aptly applicable to Jones.
To put Windsor’s views in context, he was often efficiently taken to task by Jones and subject to criticism by a number of columnists from this newspaper, including myself. It is worth remembering that towards the end of his time in federal parliament, Windsor placed a ban, for nearly two years, on any dealings with print journalists from News Corp Australia. About his ban on The Australian in particular, Windsor writes that he “is proud of the fact”.
Given that a number of his statements were quite contrary and controversial, it is scarcely any wonder that Windsor was sometimes the subject of media criticism. And he could give as good as he got: when a journalist told Windsor a story he claimed not to have seen was “on the front page of The Australian’’, he responded: “Well our family still use Sorbent.”
From left, independent MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter outside Parliament House in August 2010