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. I can not see Tony Windsor getting in a conservative electorate like New England, since it is one of the most conservative electorates in the country.

  2. Good morning Dawn Patrollers.
    This ain’t no Muslim! It’s a Repug.
    Hey Bushfire Bill – read this and see what you think.
    Here’s Peter FitzSimons’ column.
    Maley is all over the place in this article – but read her last paragraph. Over to you Jaqui!

  3. BK (Maley article, of Abbott):

    [and institute a business-funded paid parental leave scheme in his first term (a policy which feminists have failed to laud as they should).]

    Err no … I’m no feminist — I’m a socialist and egalitarian and humanist — but I daresay even feminists narrowly focused purely on benefits to women would not see this policy as the best way to empower and include most women. There would be any number of better ways to apply these resources to the benefit of women as a class, even allowing that the benefits were focused narrowly on Australian women.

    Better and more ubiquitous means-tested public housing comes straight to mind. Better mentoring and professional development for women — especially those in low-skill/semi-skilled jobs is also obvious. Better resourcing of public schools, especially those catering to those in the bottom four income deciles would be excellent.

    [The Coalition now also has a detailed broadband policy, announced this month.]

    One that has been rightly panned as being technically poor, almost certainly more expensive in the long run and delivering in practice no more benefit in the short run than is already available to most via ADSL2+ … yes. Oh … and that treats regional and rural areas less favourably.

    Abbott does remain a clown — or more precisely — a scoundrel for whom people like Maley have ridden shotgun.

  4. For thos feeling a little whimsical:

    Toyota produces a concept electric vehicle deigned to minimise its eco-footprint

    [Described as “anti-crisis”, ‘ME.WE’ is a concept car made using affordable, lightweight materials to reduce energy consumption. Bamboo is used for the vehicle’s floor, bonnet and horizontal surfaces—not only as a renewable and lightweight resource, but also adding to the aesthetics of the car.

    Instead of steel, the car uses aluminium and polypropylene for its body panels—that can also be customized with various colors, textures and patterns.

    To transport luggage, users can either store it on the roof of the car, or fold out the boot.

    All windscreens on ME.WE are also designed to be retractable—so instead of using the air-con on cool days, users can open all the windows to let breeze in. ]

  5. Looking at the proposals of the Australian Sex Party Candidate for Lyndhurst, Martin Leahy, I can see why he’d pull a few Green primaries. What I saw on the Facebook page sounded appealing “motherhood” stuff. Drug law reform is always going to be popular with Green-leaning voters.

    Still, he’s obviously not keen on elegant syntax:

    [The Australian Sex Party and myself (sic) are ready to work for you, delivering improved public transport, improved schools and a better approach to crime.]

    Ugh …

  6. [Fran Barlow
    Posted Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 11:48 pm | PERMALINK

    Oh really? {…} Ditch the witch” in Australia
    versus “Ding, dong the witch is dead” in England

    Yes. I responded in detail. You did not.]

    Believe me, Fran. I did see it. I don’t forget posts which give me belly laughs, trust me!

    I enjoyed you being sanctimonious and patronising by saying that you do not “celebrate” the death of another as you are an atheist (how is that relevant- if anyone can celebrate the death of another, surely it is an atheist) and someone who rejects “metaphysics” (see graffiti: Metaphysics is dead- Fran………What the hell is metaphysics- metaphysics). The only trouble is that on news of Thatcher’s death your response was wtte “the iron lady has rusted”.

    Quite noble and sophisticated of you! :devil:

    A little hint: You may convince others with your verbosity, but I can see through sophistry:
    “Ditch the witch” = bad because your politics is of the left
    “Ding dong the witch is dead” = good because your politics is of the left

  7. ML:

    [I enjoyed you being sanctimonious and patronising by saying that you do not “celebrate” the death of another as you are an atheist (how is that relevant- if anyone can celebrate the death of another, surely it is an atheist)]

    It would make no sense. Unless you believe in an afterlife, and the possibility that you can in some way communicate with the dead or affect them there really is no point.

    An atheist may feel relief at the death of some deeply unpleasant person but celebrating seems to me to imply a metaphysical domain, “just desert” or something similar.

    [The only trouble is that on news of Thatcher’s death your response was wtte “the iron lady has rusted”. ]

    That’s not “trouble”. It’s an observation on her mortality, cast in metaphoric terms.

  8. [Australian Sex Party supporter
    Posted Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 2:44 am | PERMALINK
    I can not see Tony Windsor getting in a conservative electorate like New England, since it is one of the most conservative electorates in the country.]

    I live in the electorate next to New England and will be most surprised if Tony Windsor doesn’t win, I have friends and rellies in that electorate (including a taxi driver) and they seem to think he will win.
    Wish I was as confident about Rob Oakeshott winning, the other electorate next to mine

  9. William, I’m not sure this is correct:

    [but he would join the others in forcing Greiner’s resignation following an adverse ICAC finding in June 1992.]

    Tony Windsor says he stood by Greiner when the Libs abandoned him following the ICAC finding. Greiner was in the process of an appeal.

    I’ve heard Windsor pull up and correct Peter Van Onselen on this issue.

  10. Morning all.

    [I’ve heard Windsor pull up and correct Peter Van Onselen on this issue.]

    Yes, I have too. Windsor was most emphatic that PvO’s take on those days was wrong.

  11. Love the way one man political parties refer to themselves in the third person – Fielding was very prone to it—

    Apparently there are 5 key differences between Palmer and ‘other conservative parties’–

    1. No lobbyists (doesn’t that automatically exclude him?)

    2. Quoted verbatim, for the audience’s enjoyment —

    [”Another one is on the carbon tax, right,” Palmer says.

    ”We think it should be abolished from the day it is introduced, not after its first year, right. And in doing that, we think we can refund back to all the people who have been paying higher electricity prices, that money.”]

    One wonders how this could be paid for – I assume by taking back the money people have been given in compensation. That’d be an interesting exercise!

    3. Anyone can fly into Australia. They will then be assessed as to whether or not they’re a genuine refugee.

    […if they are found to not be legitimate refugees, they are put on the next plane back.]

    So we’re going to have planeloads of potential refugees arriving here and planeloads being sent back (apparently after a brief interview) at (I assume) the government’s expense.

    Not sure that will either be as easy or as cheap as Palmer thinks it will be.

    If assessing someone for refugee status could be done in an airport lounge within a few hours, the detention centres would be basically empty now.

    I’ll take a risk and attempt some basic maths —

    … Sydney sees around 1 million international passengers a month. I’m not clear from the figures if these are combined arrivals/departures, so I’ll assume they are and use 500,000 as my figure for arrivals per month.

    At present, all of these have valid visas (or they’re not allowed on the plane) so processing them at this end should be pretty efficient.

    Under Palmer’s proposal, none of them have to. That will all apparently be sorted when they arrive at the airport.

    So we’ll assume that, of that 500,000, at least 100,000 per month come without a visa (a mix of refugees and people who simply haven’t bothered to get one, because meh…)

    Which is 25,000 people a week, which is (roughly) 3,500 people a day.

    We’ll assume that Clive is employing staff specifically for the task of assessing each of these as rapidly as possible. They’re going to be dealt with at the airport, that’s clear, as they’re not going to be detained at all.

    (Hmm…the logistics of holding that number of people a day waiting for interviews in itself would be interesting….)

    We’ll assume that each interview can be done in two hours (a much more efficient system than our present one, which can take years, but I’m willing to concede miracles in Clive Palmer Land) and assume that there are shifts of assessors working 24 hours a day.

    So each refugee needs 2 hours, so we need 7000 hours to interview all of them.

    So we need 220 interviews to be happening every hour, which gives us a minimum staff of 660 people (with support staff, you’d have to assume at least 750 – and you’d also need a round the clock security detail capable of handling a couple of thousand people at any time, including bundling failed applicants back on to planes, so we’ll add another 150).

    There seem to be a few logistical problems with Clive’s idea.

    4. ‘Palmer’s fourth major policy area concentrates on the resource and value-rich regions receiving at least one-quarter of the wealth they generate back into their community.

    which is immediately contradicted by:

    5. ‘we believe we should take the mineral wealth from Western Australia and Queensland and develop processing industries in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, so that we can create more jobs.”

    Um, which is it, Clive?

    Read more:

    [As for marriage equality, Palmer, a practising Catholic, says he believes in a ”conscious vote for all those issues”.]

    I’ll give Clive the benefit of the doubt here and assume the reporter is the ignorant one, but you’d think someone advocating a conscience vote would actually have a point of view —

    [”It’s not something that I would really determine until I have an issue before me. It can all be in different shades of grey, you know, it really depends on what the proposition is.”]

    Er, Clive. You’re aiming to be Prime Minister. That means you’ll have a big say in determing what the proposition is…

  12. Good Morning

    I will be surprised if Windsor does not retain Windsor.

    I think the LNP will also be surprised if they win too.
    However they know they cannot just ignore the seat.
    So they have gone with the high profile option instead.

  13. S A / tas


    noticed abbott walked off when ask about the g s t
    contributions for Tasmania and s, aust

    abbott was ask, out side and ice factory,,,,
    about contribution for Tasmania and sa, re GST
    just walked off smirking,

    so little states now , the little person down the line next.
    yes just walked off smirking,
    and he want to PM of the whole country,


    how dare he treat our state like that,
    and the people.
    so whats he got in store for your state.
    ask the question


  14. Now Henderson speaks very condescendingly about Adelaide Hill s dwellers.
    That’s mee you’re talking about you hasbeen!

  15. I have noticed a softening on abbotts PPL

    will he back down on this tooooo.

    then will he have NO policies at all,
    o yes the about the carbon price,
    and us poor
    plebs, the unwealthy majority IN THIS country

    take away the compensation, from pensioners, and
    no NDIS and the tax threshold
    take that back to 6,000
    so higher taxes for us plebs

    now that’s great,,, lnp must be for the rich and famous

    not us working people,

    who actually do all the work for big business in the first place with out the workers
    where would business be,

    thank god for the ACTU
    and LABOR.

    then of course you get people spending less
    with pensions reduced taxes increased.

    ‘then we get inflation, and higher interest rates
    as we have noted over the years int, rates are always higher with the liberals,
    cannot imagine why any one would vote their life away.

    with the lnp,,,
    aust. now is in such a sound financial zone,

    don’t take the risk

  16. ML:

    [As long as your positions make sense to you Fran, don’t worry about me!]

    That’s a non-responsive answer. You have no rebuttal so you figuratively wave your hands.

    In my experience you often make claims that are ill-considered and sweeping and when called, simply resort to brazening it out.

    That impresses nobody with any perspicacity, IMO.

  17. so bk

    was that re the g s t

    u know the smaller states like us are just

    no bodies,

    in the eyes of the libs
    they make flying visits at you and my expense,

    and smirk.

    Julia comes and she visits schools walks through the streets,
    and greets people\

    abbott goes to factory.

    says a lot really

  18. my say
    No, they were talking about Abbott’s pledge to shut down the AS detention centre at Inverbrackie in the Adelaide Hills.

  19. Fran:

    You pompously state you never “celebrate” the death of someone because you are an atheist, when you posted “The iron lady appears to have rusted” on hearing of her death and then you are offended when I laugh at your justification of why atheists shouldn’t celebrate someone’s death.

    What, christians should celebrate death should they, just not atheists?

    LOL 🙂

  20. Iceland is having a general election.

    “@electionista: #Iceland – preliminary result: Independence 25.4% Progressive 23% Alliance 12.8% Left-Green 12.4% Bright Future 7.9% Pirates 5.7% #kosningar”

  21. Yeah Iceland’s elections are a surprise because both Bright Future, and the Pirate Party can be classified as protest parties.

  22. Apparently Bright Future is backed by the mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr. The guy who promised a polar bear for the zoo.

  23. Henderson’s views on child care are bizarre. Why shouldn’t child care workers be paid appropriate salaries?

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