Seat of the week: New England

The normally sleepy rural New South Wales electorate of New England promises to be one of the highest profile contests of the coming election, with Tony Windsor fighting to survive the backlash over his support for the Gillard government and Barnaby Joyce looking to move his career to a new stage.

UPDATE (29/4/13): Essential Research is perfectly unchanged for the second week in a row, with Labor on 34%, the Coalition on 48% and the Greens on 9%, with the Coalition lead at 55-45. It finds a seven point drop since last June in respondents who think the economy is heading in the right direction, to 36%, and has 38% expecting the budget to be bad for them personally against 12% good and 38% neutral. Respondents were also asked about preferred revenue-raising measures, with “higher taxes for corporations” towering above the pack on 64%. Reducing tax breaks for higher income earners was net positive (45% approve, 38% disapprove), but reductions in the baby bonus and family tax and any spending cuts were rated negatively. It was also found that 45% believed population growth too fast, 37% about right and only 5% too slow.

New England was created at federation and has changed remarkably little since, at all times accommodating Armidale and Tamworth and losing Glen Innes only between 1934 and 1949. Currently the electorate sits inland of the north coast seats of Richmond, Cowper and Lyne, extending southwards from the local government areas of Tenterfield and Inverell on the Queensland border through Glen Innes and Armidale to Tamworth, Gunnedah and Walcha. Tony Windsor has been the seat’s independent member since 2001, when he ended an uninterrupted run of National/Country Party control going back to 1922.

Windsor came to politics from a background as a local farmer and economist, winning the state seat of Tamworth as an independent in 1991 after unsuccessfully seeking preselection to succeed a retiring Nationals member. Windsor had received the support of seven out of nine local party branches, and his defeat prompted a revolt among local members of the Nationals as well as the Liberal Party, which did not field a candidate at the election. He went on to win election with 36.2% of the primary vote to 31.9% for the Nationals candidate, prevailing by 9.8% after preferences. Windsor’s victory gave him an early taste of life as an independent in a hung parliament, Nick Greiner’s Coalition government having lost its majority at the election. Windsor was at first the most accommodating of the independents in shoring up Greiner’s position in parliament, but he would join the others in forcing Greiner’s resignation following an adverse ICAC finding in June 1992. Windsor polled 82.2% of the primary vote in the absence of Nationals or Liberal candidates in 1995, which came down to 69.4% when the Nationals fielded a candidate in 1999.

Windsor announced his intention to contest New England two months out from the 2001 federal election, having also floated the idea of running against then Nationals leader John Anderson in the neighbouring seat of Gwydir. He duly recorded 45.0% of the primary vote against 38.9% for Nationals incumbent Stuart St Clair, who had come to the seat in 1998 in succession to retiring former party leader Ian Sinclair, and prevailed by 8.3% after preferences. Windsor’s primary vote would swell to 57.3% in 2004 and to 61.9% at consecutive elections in 2007 and 2010. Windsor’s testy relationship with the Nationals worsened in the lead-up to the 2004 election when he claimed he had been offered a sinecure if he agreed to quit politics, telling parliament a few months later that the offer was communicated to him by a Tamworth businessman acting at the behest of John Anderson and Nationals Senator Sandy Macdonald. This was denied by all concerned, including the businessman.

Household name status awaited Windsor after the 2010 election left him and four other cross-benchers holding the balance of power. With independent Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt of the Greens declaring early for Labor, Julia Gillard needed the support of two of the three remaining independents to achieve a majority. Each represented electorates that were rural and broadly conservative, especially in Windsor’s case. It was thus an especially bold move on Windsor’s part to join with Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott in throwing their lot in with Labor. All indications since have been that Windsor and Oakeshott have paid a high political price for their decision, in contrast to Kennedy MP Bob Katter who cagily declared for the Coalition as the Windsor-Oakeshott deal made his vote redundant. A Newspoll survey of 500 voters in October 2011 had Windsor trailing the Nationals 41% to 33% on the primary vote and 53-47 on respondent-allocated preferences. In June 2012, at which time it was anticipated Richard Torbay would be the Nationals candidate, a ReachTEL poll of 532 respondents 532 respondents gave Torbay a primary vote lead of 62% to 25%.

Richard Torbay’s name first emerged as a possible Nationals candidate in mid-2011, though it was said at the time that this was conditional on Windsor retiring. Torbay had been an independent member for the state parliament since 1999, when he unseated Nationals member Ray Chappell in the Armidale-based seat of Northern Tablelands. Torbay’s primary vote progressed from 44.2% to 71.3% in 2003 and 72.7% in 2007, before falling back to 63.4%. In the wake of the latter result Torbay complained of “the trashing of the independent brand”, which was easy to interpret as a dig at Windsor and Oakeshott. He also revealed at this time that he had been approached to run for New England by the Liberals and Katter’s Australian Party as well as the Nationals, and that he was taking very seriously the offer from the latter. His intention was confirmed in mid-2012, when the party granting him “freedom to speak with an independent voice on local issues”.

Torbay’s ambitions became rapidly unstuck in March 2013 when the Financial Review reported he had received assistance from embattled Labor operative Eddie Obeid ahead of his run for state parliament in 1999. Over the next two days Torbay withdrew as candidate and resigned as member for Northern Tablelands, with Nationals state chairman saying the party had received unspecified information “of which we were not previously aware”. This information was referred to ICAC, which raided Torbay’s home and electorate office the following week. Torbay’s loss proved a gain for Barnaby Joyce, who had emerged as the Nationals’ most visible figure since his election to the Senate in 2004 and was widely thought a more promising candidate for the party leadership than low-profile incumbent Warren Truss. Joyce had been open in his desire to move to the lower house, and nominated New England, where he had been born and raised, as his second favoured entry point after the Queensland rural seat of Maranoa.

Not all within the NSW Nationals were quite so keen on furnishing the nominal outsider with what had traditionally been a stronghold seat for the party. In 2011 his opponents sounded out the party’s state leader, Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner, with a view to stonewalling Joyce by contesting the seat and assuming the federal party leadership. Stoner said he wasn’t interested, and the Torbay option would firm in its stead after party polling in early 2012 showed he offered the clearest path to victory over Windsor, including in comparison with Joyce. Thwarted in Maranoa by incumbent Bruce Scott’s determination to serve another term, Joyce reconciled himself for the time being to continue serving in the Senate. When Torbay withdrew Joyce was quick to reiterate his interest, although there were suggestions he might have a strong preselection opponent in the shape of Nationals Farmers Federation president Alexander “Jock” Laurie. However, Laurie instead chose to run in the state by-election to replace Torbay in Northern Tablelands, and Joyce went to an easy 150-10 win in the local preselection vote over Tamworth IT businessman David Gregory.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

2,050 comments on “Seat of the week: New England”

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  1. mexican

    I agree with what you are saying. However Germany for one should realise what happens when foreign countries force adverse economic conditions on people.

    The Versailles treaty did that and gave rise to the conditions that Hitler was able to take advantage of.

  2. [ the masive cost of NBN is because they are digging fibre to the homes – which costs a shit load more across the continent of Australia than the tiny island state of Singapore. ]
    Which is why laying fire across the continent of Australia only to stop it in the street outside your house is so worthy of riducule

  3. Rates of taxation increased over the period of rapid economic growth from 1946 to 1974, mainly through bracket creep induced by what was mostly mild to moderate inflation. It was the end of cheap energy that ended the post war boom, not taxation. And over recent decades, big corporations, especially multinationals, and wealthy individuals, have becoming increasingly clever at hiding their wealth and assets from taxation, legally and illegally, leaving wage and salary earners and smaller businesses to bear an increasing share of the burden.

  4. CC, you should be aware that prior to the GFC, Spain was in the same position as Australia is now – very low public sector debt, minor public sector deficits or small surpluses; but a huge property bubble, a banking sector that depended on foreign credit and very large household debts.

    When the GFC exposed the vulnerability of bank assets, their liabilities were absorbed by the sovereign and Spain has been in trouble ever since. Youth unemployment is over 50% and general unemployment is about 24%. In spite of deep spending cuts, the budget remains in the red after 5 years of repeated attempts to cut spending.

    They are completely paralysed. Were it not for the extraordinary measures of the ECB, they would not be able to borrow to support their budget. They cannot lift themselves to growth. They have the same external imbalances now as they had in the years prior to 2008 and have been unable to adjust other than by creating mass unemployment.

    This is the consequence of failed thinking and political orthodoxy. It is an absolutely avoidable tragedy.

  5. @CC/1992

    You ignorant fool, Turnbull said his plan is going to cost the same or more in the long term.

    The cost of fibre isn’t actually (It’s actually fair bit lower than New Zealand Fibre rollout – which is or has heading towards $3000 per premises).

    BT Fibre ON Demand is not gaining traction because it’s expansive paper weight – even product before it’s officially launched, and BT has dropped it’s 25%for Fibre on Demand requirement and instead focusing on FTTC.

  6. guytaur

    I have long felt that Greece and others should default and the banking system get given a month suspended from share trading with credit redraw limits to prevent a run and in that month the banks open their books and either stay as they are, merge with another bank or fold with the deposits transferred to new banks.

  7. [It is very true that Germany has been the main driver and fair enough why should German taxpayers cover for the poor management of the pigs countries.]

    Tend to agree but… Germany has itself benefited massively from a Euro much weaker than the DM would have been, and the weaker economies suffered and will continue to suffer because of a currency too strong.

  8. Gaytur re economy
    Prof Krugman///Nobel Prize wining economist says that the EU austerity programs may yet turn the current GFC into a


    Tonight on ABC” For. Corresp” look at the catastrophe in Cyprus..where ordinary people are losing their savings and super entitlements and many are destitute

    In Oz after 1931..Lyons tried the austerity road with the Premier’s Plan which was a disaster…and only the onset of WW2 saw the economy revive

  9. @2005 – “same” – BOLLOCKS

    There is no huge property bubble – if there was it would have collapsed during the GFC. Demand outstrips supply for both new homes and rentals due to population growth.

    Australian Banks are vastly bette run than Spanish banks with significantly better capitalisation ratios and sound belt and braces lending policies.

  10. Austerity only works to a certain extinct just like a business or government can handle a certain amount of debt before it starts to drown the balance sheet.

    Austerity needs to be applied on those areas that can afford it not just on those you deem unlikely to vote for you.

  11. But what time period do we think Tone would like to visit.

    I can think of several interesting historically moments

  12. @2006 Zoidy – you’re the one who said Singapore has NBN equivalent so Australia should have it – there is a massive cost differnece between the two nations.

    I’d love an Audi R8 but unfortunately the budget only stretches to a Commodore.

  13. But CC, the market was poised on the brink of collapse. Only the swift action of the Rudd Government prevented a rout in Australian property and banking. It was touch and go. Of course, the Australian banking system was and is better run than the European system too. That helped a lot. But the ratios of property prices-to-income are higher here than in Spain; and debt-to-income ratios are higher too.

    What saved Australian banking was first Rudd’s stimulus and then the resources boom. The trouble is, the stimulus was only a short-term, palliative measure, and the boom is now drawing to an end.

    The LNP, if they win, are going to have to figure out how to support incomes and jobs, because these are the keys to property and banking.

  14. crank

    The NBN is an investment. Do it once do it right. The LNP proposal will cost more as it will have to be redone anyway.

    Its also a technology that will be obsolete by the time it is ready to be used.

    The techies are crystal clear on this.

  15. Guytaur

    No, i am actually saying its good to be sensible with spending but its one thing to be sensible and another to slash and burn in an ad-hoc way that is counter-productive.

  16. mb @2013 – when you have a massive structural debt and deficit problem like the Europeans exactly how do you decide what not to cut or cut the least? And if you have to change cultural entitlement mentalities how many electoral cycles do you think you’ve got to do that in? And how long are the debt and currency markets going to let you take?

  17. I am pretty sure that in 2008 there was one major bank faced with serious problems and yes Rudd did put a floor under the property market so while we have seen a decline we have not seen the worst of it thanks to one of the best bit of policy making in a generation.

  18. @CC/2015

    No I said they have Cable, Fibre and Wireless networks.

    I said nothing about High Density.

    Also, Turnbull is using BT in UK as yard stick, a network costing 2.5 billion pounds vs a network that will cost $30 billion or $43 billion.

    Our network is naturally more expansive, regardless.

    You are not saving much money in the 10 year period that Turnbull is looking at rolling out his version of the network (2019 completion date).

  19. @2017 – you omitted the fact that Australia has one of the lowest loan default rates on personal property mortgages in the world due to our recourse loans and bankruptcy laws.

    You argue the stimlus spending stopped a property crash – poppycock and balderdash. The $900 went on imported consumer goods. The construction industry spending locked in high construction costs (and those evil 457 visas) which otherwise might have allowed more resource projects to get off the ground and cheaper new house prices.

  20. Crank

    The Europeans have a number of structural issues ranging from how its Industrial Relations system operates, overbearing regulation, Pensions and finance sector regulation.

    All these issues need addressing and without overhauling these areas sadly the Europeans are faced with a massive problem.

  21. quite right, mb @ 2023

    I vividly recall the day in September 2008 when the foreign exchange market basically ceased to exist. For a few hours, it was not possible to convert other currencies into AUD because the banks had ceased to accept each others’ warrants. The entire global financial system was about to disappear. In fact, for a few hours, it did disappear. Australian banks were completely marooned and would not have been able to fund themselves without support from the Commonwealth and the RBA. Hopefully we will not go there again!

  22. @2025 – you can’t ignore the density issue – because the budget constraint is always a major factor. When I ant/need a faster computer or better phone – I buy it from the market. The market would have provided a solution in good time when it was economically viable.

  23. CC @ 2026, you should cast your eyes over the labour market data from 2008 through to 2010. The shock of the collapse certainly imperiled a lot of jobs. It was the stimulus that revived labour demand, without which economy would have been in grave trouble. You can rubbish it if you like. Soon your mob will have to make a similar choice – support the labour market or watch it decay.

    What will you do! All Australian voters are entitled to ask and to have an answer.

  24. @CC/2030

    The market has failed dude, give it up.

    The market doesn’t always provide.

    It had over 10 years to get from the “market”, this isn’t the IT Industry dude.

    This is the telco Industry.

  25. Crank

    And when would the private sector have done it.

    The private sector has proven itself unable to take the lead on major infrastructure.

    Yes there are many things that it does well and i would like to think it could do more without Government assistance but i cannot find any examples of the private sector taking the lead in a new major infrastructure project.

  26. @2023/28 – that wasn’t because of problems in the Australian Banking System or Property Markets and none of our banks were at risk of failing – just wouldn’t have been able to lend much. The Bank Guarante, which clients paid for, also caused the lock up of the Mortgagde Backed Securities market. Lots of retirees severely impacted by that action.

  27. The low default rates in property are a consequence of full employment. Put that at risk and you will see default rates climb soon enough. I am old enough to have lived through bear cycles in property and know exactly what the dynamics are.

  28. @2033 – there are some bloody big private hospitals and schools in WA. Maybe they don’t exist in the East.

    Oh, and there are a few toll roads over east – you might be aware of them.

  29. [2034
    Compact Crank

    @2023/28 – that wasn’t because of problems in the Australian Banking System or Property Markets and none of our banks were at risk of failing – just wouldn’t have been able to lend much.]

    This completely misses the point. Without concerted action by the Commonwealth, the economy would have been in deep trouble. The LNP opposed nearly everything the Labor Government did. We are entitled to conclude that in similar circumstances, the LNP would just let the whole thing go to pieces. By your rhetoric and your acts, we are entitled to expect that.

  30. Crank

    Yes private hospitals that are supported by a private health rebate.

    Yes there are several toll roads

    Both these private sector ventures are supported directly or indirectly by Government either though special planning rules that funnel traffic or private health insurance rebates.

  31. briefly @2037 – no, you are confusing the role of the Opposition with the role of the Government. The Opposition is called the Opposition because it is it’s job to Oppose. To hold the Government to account by questioning its’ policies andn forcing the Governemnt to actively justify is’ actions to the voters and to highlight failings and short comings in order to impose on the Government a high level of accountability. It does not have to outline it’s own policies or pretend Ministerial Decisions or faux Cabinet deliberations. It is then for the voters to decide if the Government deserves another chance.

  32. The other thing about toll road projects the Government actually plays a major role in the planning stage so even though the private sector is delivering it the Government is still very involved.

  33. mb, we have an ideologue, one who is impervious to reason and facts and deals only in myths of their own invention…such is the make-believe politics of the LNP.

  34. CC, this is disingenuous nonsense. We are entitled to conclude from your rhetoric and your deeds that you would see the whole lot go up in smoke.

  35. Also factor in the first ADSL2+ DSLAM was Internode in 2005.

    The Coalition need to renegotiate with Telstra for a FTTN network for the same customers.

    That was 2 years before Howard lost his seat.

    And also, A single DSLAM can take anywhere from 1 to 5 years to pay off, depending on the provider:

    “We’re now at the point where delays are to our benefit, ’cause our DSLAM network is now at an average age of over four years, depreciated over five years. We can sweat it indefinitely until something better comes along for the customers,” he said.

  36. CC if you had more than myths and fabrications, you might persuade me. I’m not inflexible but am pragmatic and rational.

  37. It doesn’t matter if its footy or politics but people that are bias will try and bend the argument to suit their own viewpoint

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