It seems these days of political spin that you only find out what’s really going on from those outside the fray. Be they an ex-security advisor, or an ex-department head, or an ex-parliamentarian, at last they don’t owe any favours to anyone and can speak their mind.
But there are a rare few that did that anyway, even in the thick of it. And on Thursday 9 October at the Bermagui Hotel, a privileged crowd gathered to hear ex-Independent member for New England Tony Windsor speak for the Bermagui Institute about those 17 days in 2010 when the leadership of our nation hung in the balance. Of all the talking heads we heard during those fraught, heady times, the flushed face of Tony Windsor could always be counted on to tell it as it was.
As said seasoned political journalist Alan Ramsey, introducing Windsor on the night, ‘His secret is that he has no secret at all.’
No wonder the event sold out in 36 hours.
Windsor spoke briefly about his time in state and federal politics then opened the floor to questions.
Windsor on Julia Gillard’s troubles as PM: ‘she had three opposition leaders – Tony Abbott, Rupert Murdoch and Kevin Rudd.’
On the need for a federal Independent Commission against Corruption: its mere presence would deter corrupt activities. ‘For too long Canberra has been without such a body. Much of the faith lost in politics could be repaired by the creation of a federal anti-corruption body with teeth.’
Indeed, a 2014 Lowy Institute poll showed that only 60% of respondents, and only 42% of young Australians, feel that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government.
‘High paying consultancies into which some parliamentarians walked after they left office are particularly worthy of investigation,’ he said.
On education funding, Windsor called on his audience not to ‘give up on Gonski’.
‘The Gonski needs-based funding model provides a structural platform that removes the public-private-religious impasse of generations. It provides an economic ramp for the future and an obvious social dividend.’
On the NBN: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows that the model of broadband he is implementing will not fulfil the requirements of the future, he says. An issue close to Windsor’s heart is the fast-approaching crisis in aged care, where the only answer to the clear shortfall in beds and staff will be care in the home. And this would require real-time monitoring, requiring fibre to the home – planned under the old Labor model, dismantled under Turnbull.
Windsor also spoke to Turnbull about the chaos that Abbott was causing and its potential impact on the Australian political system.
Many saw Turnbull as the intelligence, the conscience, of the new government. Windsor is ‘disappointed’ in Malcolm Turnbull. The only answer he can come up with is that Turnbull has ‘given up’, and is now just there to help his mates.
And an answer to another question a lot of us struggle with: Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt do know that Australia should be displaying leadership on climate change.
Windsor feels deeply the need to act on this threat. He initially attracted some opprobrium (even death threats) from his constituents when he supported the price on carbon. Bindaree Beef is a large abattoir in his old seat, employing 700 workers. The owner calculated the tax he would be up for and accused Tony of destroying his business. But since then he has received a Clean Energy grant to install a biogas system which converts methane from abattoir waste into electricity, heat and gas to power much of the plant. The technology could eventually cut the plant’s coal-fired electricity usage to zero and drastically reduce its costs and environmental impact. Suffice to say that the owner has changed his mind.
It was handy to have ex-Treasury Secretary Ken Henry in the audience to help when Windsor didn’t have all the dollar figures at hand.
Mary Cunnane thanked Tony Windsor on our behalf. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thanked him, silently, for doing his best, with commitment, intelligence and integrity, when he had the chance.
First published in The Triangle community newspaper, November 2014