Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on Joyce v Windsor in New England in the context of New England's fight for statehood

This looks like a Tony Windsor billboard, but in fact its the opposite. It's one of dozens on both sides that has sprung up across New England.

This reflection began with a private Facebook post that Helen Dale suggested that I should publish. 

The post first. 
"I really should put this one on my public FB pages, but its a really personal comment. 
I have just watched on ABC iview the 4 corners program on the contest between Joyce and Windsor for New England. If you want to see what a real election campaign looks like and not the ersatz stuff you so often see in the city you should watch. 
This is a very large electorate now that stretches from the Upper Hunter to the border. Its also a very diverse electorate in which the locals and, to a lesser extent since local ownership vanished, the local media have strong views and expect their candidates to know them. 
The hot button issues here are different from those you would expect from the national campaign. The NBN is a real sleeper issue in the country. Armidale got the NBN, Tamworth was next, but the election of the Abbott Government and Mr Turnbull as communications minister and the consequent changes to the NBN cost Tamworth their connection. The people who are hurting, the Tamworth business community, traditional National supporters are angry. It doesn't matter what national arguments are mounted, when your business is hurt by a Government decision, you react. Why can't we have decent coms? 
This is an electorate where climate change, coal seam gas and coal have become important sectional issues because of the Liverpool Plains where prime and beautiful agricultural land and livelihoods are affected. The audience at the Tamworth Q&A program was not representative nor did Mr Joyce handle certain questions well, but it caught the passion. 
This is also an electorate where the refugee and border election issue does not play out quite in the same way as Western Sydney or, at the other end of the spectrum, the inner suburbs of the metros. The pro-refugee groups are quite strong, while there are many local connections with individual refugees. This tempers the migration debate in what is, in some way,s a conservative if independent leaning seat. 
The hurts and resentments created by My Windsor's support of the Gillard Government, the sense of betrayal, are still there, if somewhat moderated by time. So is the National Party base, as well as national issues like jobs, health and development. This is an area that in many ways has simply not shared in Australia's economic growth. So they want results, tangibles, specifics, not generalised policies or programs. A program for jobs doesn't help if the result is no jobs in New England. 
Polling suggests that the Labor vote at around 7% and the Green vote at around 4% have collapsed, actually eclipsed by the non-Windsor independent vote. Mr Joyce is holding in the high forties, but he has to be in the very high forties with so many preferences against him. 
This is not an unsophisticated political campaign. You don't mount a potentially successful campaign against the Deputy Prime Minister without substantial resources. Mr Windsor's own reactivated political machine is backed by volunteer and special interest groups inside and outside the electorate. They are expert at the use of social media. Mr Joyce is fighting back, but is struggling a little. 
I hesitate to pick a winner. Personally, and even though I have such a high opinion of Mr Windsor, I hope that Barnaby wins. 
Whichever way it goes, I couldn't think help thinking how much I love electoral politics, how many scenes in the Four Corners program I recognised. Professionally, I can accept generalised performance measures. Personally, I need to translate the things that I still strive for into results for people."
In a comment, Carlo Ritchie wrote:
"I have to say that I'm on the other side of the fence to you Jim. Though I respect your thoughts on the matter. As someone who is very passionate about the potential and future of the New England, I do not see the vehicle to the future being driven by Barnaby Joyce. The last four polls have all predicted that a hung parliament is likely, in which case, Turnbull will maintain the government until a no confidence vote. In that circumstance, the seats that will be the most strongly advantaged will be those on who's vote the Government depends. A vote for an Independant isn't a vote for the Labour Government, or a vote for the Greens, or a vote against the current government in fact. It's a vote for New England. It's a vote for an independant vote and it's a vote for our voice to be taken to Canberra, not for the voice-piece of Canberra to come to us.
Like me, Carlo is a supporter for self-government for the broader New England, In a letter to the Glen Innes Examiner, Carlo wrote:
The North should be Independent. 
A vote for an independent is not a vote for the Labor Party. Nor is it a vote for the Greens, or the Nationals for that matter. It is a vote for the New England. It is a vote for an independent voice amongst the bickering of the two party system. It is a vote for our voice, rather than the voice of Canberra. 
The North should be independent. I am not the first person to think it, nor to suggest it, in fact it’s biggest proponent was Sir Earle Page, founder of the Country Party. Back when the Country Party first formed government in 1922 they used their political leverage to remove then sitting Prime Minister Billy Hughes. The highest office in the country brought down by a handful of land holders who wanted a better deal for their constituents. 
That is the power that the National Party once wielded. Now, in 2016, our voice in Canberra, Barnaby Joyce, leader of the National Party, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and the Deputy Prime Minister, the man legally and constitutionally empowered as the final say on Agriculture and Water for this country, can’t stop a mine on the doorstep of his own electorate.  
As we get closer to the election, polls are telling us that in all likelihood we may end up with another hung parliament. In which case, Malcom Turnbull will remain as leader unless a no confidence motion is successful. A motion that both Rob Taber and Tony Windsor have said they would not support. In that case, it is those seats on whom the Government depends for their vote that will benefit the most. In such circumstances, it is the Independent Voice that will be heard against the din.
Debbie asked in a question:
Jim, why, personally, do you want Barnaby to win? For "party political" reasons? or policy?
Now Debbie knows that I am traditional Country Party. I describe myself in that way because while I tend to support the National Party since I believe that regional Australia needs a voice, I am far from a died in the wool National Party supporter.

In response to Debbie, I said: 
It's complicated, Debbie. Carlo set out the alternative view below. At a national level, the most likely outcomes at the moment are a coalition return, a less likely Labor win or a minority coalition government dependent on the Xenophon block - the polls suggest that they could end up with up to three seats. 
At electoral level, Barnaby has supported New England self government, while the possible shift to Armidale of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority would be a major local game changer for the city and university. On Tony's side, I am supportive of a number of his stances but would be more comfortable if he had a clearer Northern vision. If the coalition is returned with a majority but Tony elected, then I don't think that he will have a major influence. Hence Barnaby. If Labor wins, then the pendulum shifts towards Tony. If its a minority coalition government, it could go either way. 
Note that I haven't really mentioned national issues. I am pretty one-eyed, I guess, but for the life of me I lack the skills to work out how to balance the differences between the two sides. I straddle them. Whichever one gets in is likely to leave me dissatisfied!
In an election where all parties are focused on the marginals, where Nick Xenophon's rise for is creating benefits for South Australia, where we are told we must focus on "national" issues, I come back to this point. Northern NSW has been in long term structural decline.

Politicians respond on a seat by seat basis, never addressing the question of what, if anything, can be done to address the decline. Even Mr Windsor is actually focused on his narrow patch. He goes local, or national, but forgets the bit in the middle.

Why should I be happy just because South Australia is a state and gets attention, New England is not and does not? We have wanted to manage ourselves for over 150 years.  


2 tanners said...

If folks think New England is hard done by, then try being the ACT where Barnaby is happy to ruin its economy and sensible efficient government to pork barrel NSW, where ALL politicians hate us (job cuts of around 20,000 since 2012 and knock-on effects to other indsutries) and where with a population of over 300,000 we only have 2 seats and 2 Senate seats. Compare that to, say, Tasmania.

I think the point about who will have more influence is that Windsor will be free to stand on his principles, or cut deals in favour of New England, while Barnaby *may* have more influence but ultimately will have to fall in line with LNP policy. No matter who wins, it'll be fascinating to watch.

Johnb said...

There is a possibility for Tony Windsor in New England and Rob Oakeshott for Cowpwr. Might that not give opportunity for vastly improving the West/East links between Tableland and the Coast.
Something long overdue for truly developing a Regional Economy.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Johnb. The delay in responding means that we now know the election results, of course. We do indeed still need better communications links between east and west, although the option you referred to has past