In­de­pen­dent-mind­edly tilt­ing the bal­ance

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS - Ross Fitzger­ald

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

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