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. CC, like I say, you are very attached to the status quo, such as you imagine it to be. Keating floated the dollar so that it might fluctuate and act as a shock absorber. But financial repression in other economies means the rate no longer fluctuates. It has become inflexible and is now generating shocks in the economy rather than absorbing them. We should restore flexibility so that the exchange rate helps facilitate adjustment.

    Of course, this requires leadership and courage, things the LNP does not possess and cannot exercise.

  2. CC, I’m not advocating anything radical, only that which is practical and which will work to improve the functioning of the economy. The alternative is to do nothing, which is what the LNP will do.

    Of course, doing nothing is not really a viable choice. It will invite trouble. Just wait and see. Your mob will produce nothing but trouble for workers, for families, for retirees, for the mortgaged and the young.

    It is easy to work out. The data is all there. More than 100 years of Australian economic history is there too, including the era of the Post-war expansion. You blokes will mess it up. They have already said as much.

  3. I see the right wing is still coming to terms with the death of austerity.

    This is fair enough. It took the left some time to adjust to the collapse of communism. Note that is not socialist economic policy.

    The right will come up with something that is not austerity. They will start by looking at what Menzies did.

  4. Wonder if Gillard will go for a capital gains tax on the family home as a new bright idea…. you can never tell with these people now.

  5. [1953
    Compact Crank

    @1951 – you were probably complaining when the AUD was too low for so long also.]

    You can hide behind your insults and your foolish protests. The facts are your mob have not got the first idea what to do. They think we can go back to 1996 and run a replay of Howard and Costello – rerun an old home movie. Well that won’t work. It’s too late. Of course, you absolutely do not understand the economy and will wreck it if given the chance. You nearly wrecked it last time. This time you might finish the job.

  6. zoidy @ 1957 – if Australia had the same population density as Singapore I might agree – there is however a small disparity there.

    Apples and Oranges

  7. [1959
    Thomas. Paine.

    Wonder if Gillard will go for a capital gains tax on the family home as a new bright idea…. you can never tell with these people now.]

    I always suspected you were a Lib in Green drag. This tends to prove it.

  8. Briefly – give it up – there is plenty of experience and talent in the Coalition – certainly a much broader life experience than the ALP.

    Just because the small target strategy on policy drives you nuts doesn’t mean they will sit there twiddling their thumbs – as much as you may beleive it.

    Grow up.

  9. guytaur – so your prescription was to keep the deficits going and the debt growing and the outcome of that would have been . . . ?

  10. CC, I know quite a few Liberals including Julie Bishop and David Johnstone. They are as backward-looking and self-deluded as it is possible to be, as a rule. Their instincts are small and mean, and they think we are all fools. They think we just like them – easily taken in by wishful thinking and slogans.

    So don’t tell me they are up to the job. I know them first hand. They are feeble thinkers and shallow actors. They will mess it up.

  11. TP – I saw the internal WA ALP polling in 2005 when they mooted putting a Wealth Stamp Duty on properties over $1 mill – they dropped tht one like a hot potatoe – Aussies don’t like the class war bullshit.

  12. Crank

    You do what Labor did. You follow the Keynes theory.
    It works.

    Graphic exxample. USA Great Depression. Austerity kept things going down.

    Growth came when money was spent on things like the Hoover Dam.

    For economy to grow consumers must have money to spend. No consumer no job. No job no tax. etc.

  13. If Europes problems are due to austerity it’s only because they failed to implement more gradual austerity much sooner. The real problem is they dug themselves into a very deep hole and now they have limited resources to help get themselves out. Blaming austerity is a scapegoat excuse to avoid facing the real problems they have.

    Basically they are trying to save the EU and a single currency when they are facing a variety of economic and social structures. They need an act of God.

  14. @1968 Zoidy – are you being deliberately perverse – I don’t beleive you are a moron.

    Singapore fits inside the size of Perth – do you deny there is a cost differential?

  15. @1970 – wrong on Crean? Well he didn’t run for leader but he did prove he is one of the few adults in the party which is why I was spruiking him as an alternate in the first palce. Never expected the ALP would give him another shot but his actions showed whythey should have.

  16. Today Abbott and team looked like they want to back away from the NDIS.

    I know they are not doing this but they certainly came across like that on the media from comments they made. Comes of looking for the negative light to paint Labor in.

    The disabled and their carers are a lot of votes to lose.

  17. guytaur – you still haven’t answered the question – what would have been the impact of the continuing deficits and growing debt?

    I doubt the Euro would still exist right now, for a starter.

    And for those pushing the Depression Saviour line – do a comparison of debt levels between then and now.

    How come Japan has failed to grow for so long with so much deficit and debt spending?

  18. CC, you are a natural comedian. Simon Crean has about as much talent for politics as goldfish. We can only hope he retires and takes up bowls.

  19. Crank

    You miss the point. Going to austerity just increases the debt and means less means to pay it.

    Keep people in jobs you keep from having to increase government outlays. You increase government revenue.

  20. venezuela

    Is interesting for on one hand it has seen a big increase in its educated population but it has mismanaged its energy use and now needs to import oil even though it is a major producer

    source CNN

  21. Thomas.Paine @ 1959 Wonder if Gillard will go for a capital gains tax on the family home as a new bright idea…. you can never tell with these people now.

    That old crock. Save it for the Daily Telecrap or whatever Murdoch crapsheet is published where you live. I heard Tony Abbott being ‘mischievous’ (to put it kindly) with the PM’s “everything is on the table” statement: ‘We don’t know if its going to be superannuation, whether it’s going to be be death duties, whether it’s going to be capital gains tax on the family home. Or, whether it’s going to be an additional Medicare levy. Or a window tax’.

    OK, I made the last one up, but that’s OK, I only used single quotes. Here’s some stuff the Telecrap made up:

    The headline might be literally true – the Medicare levy is 2.5% of a higher average income. As they say in the classics, lies, damned lies and statistics.

  22. guytaur – no I don’t miss the point – the deficits were massive and the debts rising uncontrollably – no action or even insufficient action on controlling the debts would have caused collapse of the monetary systems of Europe.

    Even what has been done is still the death of a thouand cuts for Greece and possibly Italy. Spain will recover soon and remain in the Euro Zone – the alternative was out of the Euro and even worse turmoil.

  23. @1982 – and how do you increase revenues? Taxation – do you need me to explain the effect rising taxation has on economic growth?

  24. Debt is a double edged sword for too much debt can suffocate a balance sheet but debt is used to build a business.

    Reducing Government spending is all very good in reducing debt but to make a real difference you need to focus instead on the actual spending and ensuring that the spending is achieving its objectives.

    Too often Governments become bogged down with process and reviews and short term focus.

    On the Perret Report it was noticed that the business sector has done very well to reduce its debt levels which i think provides scope for greater private sector activity but also will provide Government with the opportunity to reduce spending on those areas that it can afford too.

  25. Crank

    No the banks and countries like Germany forced austerity on countries. Gradual change could still have been forced without creating the chaos we are seeing in Europe now.

  26. zoidy @1985 – 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.

  27. Yes Crank the CNN report did mention a number of problems facing Venezuela so whilst some may rave about that Government performance on the social front but on the economic front its performance has been pretty poor.

  28. Crank

    Go read Keynes I am not going to spend the night repeating his theory for you.

    It works. All those that have not done Keynes have fallen into recession or worse.

  29. guytaur

    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.

    I heard that in Spain that if you buy a house and it’s previously owner sold it with debt still owing then the new owner became responsible for that debt.

    I hope i misheard it but if true it make you wonder just how hopeless are the Governments at making laws.

  30. guytaur – you really think the Germans just did it for the fun?

    Are you wilfully ignoring what was happening in the credit and cutrrency markets?

    You really believe that if less strenuous actions had of been taken the banking systems and currencies would have been able to continue to operate?

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