Strategy of linking Barnaby Joyce to Abbott makes Tony Windsor a danger in New England

Tony Windsor has announced he will contest the seat of New England as an independent candidate. Photo: Andrew Meares Tony Windsor has sought to make the most of the link between Barnaby Joyce and the Coalition’s right, including Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

Barnaby Joyce (top left) with other members of the frontbench of former prime minister Tony Abbott (bottom right). Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Tony Windsor confirms tilt at Barnaby Joyce

It’s not often that a 65 year-old retired politician can, with a straight face, pitch himself as the future-looking candidate in an election contest.

Tony Windsor just about got away with it.

He mounts a strong case that Barnaby Joyce, 48, is one of a cabal of “right wingers”, along with Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews, who are acting, in his words, as a “handbrake” on the progressive instincts of Malcolm Turnbull.

It’s a powerful argument because everyone can see it’s true.

It is reflected in every recent poll that the Turnbull government is viewed as being mired in policy paralysis and wracked with internal divisions.

As Windsor said, Australia breathed a sigh of relief in September. But the conservative handbrake is unwilling to accept the changes that by rights should result from such a dramatic rejection of Abbott.

Against that backdrop, Windsor is a genuine danger to Joyce in New England.

“There’s an enormous future looking at us, there’s enormous opportunities and the local member is looking backwards. [Barnaby Joyce] is not in this century yet,” Windsor said.

Windsor came with a list: Gonski schools funding, NBN, climate change, coal mining and water.

On all these issues, he is positioned to the progressive side of his opponent. Right or wrong, he has a positive message to sell on all those issues. By comparison, Joyce issued an agricultural white paper that assumes climate change will have no bearing on the farm sector.

The obvious danger is that Windsor is seen as too much of a lefty and a rural turncoat.

Even before the official announcement, Joyce had described Windsor’s political journey as one where he “started as an independent and ended up as a member of the Labor-Green-independent alliance”.

Windsor’s message will clearly go down well in inner-city seats that he is not contesting, but he thinks it will also resonate in regional New England.

Nearly 60 per cent of New England voters backed someone other than a Coalition candidate in the Senate in 2013, indicating the electorate may not be as conservative as some assume.

Windsor will not be short of willing volunteers and financial backers to mount what he promises will be a “full-scale grassroots campaign”.

But given his established media profile, it will not be the “David and Goliath” battle he has tried to cast it as.

One of the broader effects of his inclusion in the contest will be to hem Joyce into New England, sidelining him from the “wombat trail” that the National Party leader would normally lead across the countryside.

The Nats smell an opportunity to defeat Cathy McGowan in Indi, thereby derailing Sophie Mirabella’s political comeback, and also need to defend seats like Dawson in Queensland from Labor and the Greens and Joyce will have less time to devote to those ventures.

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