Tony Windsor Names Climate Change As Central Plank In His Political Comeback

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Former New England Independent Tony Windsor has made climate action and global warming’s disproportionate impact on rural people a central part of his pitch for re-election as he mounts a push to snatch his old seat back from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

At a press conference in Canberra this morning Windsor confirmed he would run, and sought to characterise Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce as part of a “small group of right-wingers” within the government that is acting as a “handbrake” on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“Barnaby Joyce is Minister for Water and Agriculture: If you look at what the climate scientists are saying – and I believe what they’re saying is right – the Murray Darling system, the people who live in the country, the people who [the National Party]say they represent, are going to be the very victims of climate change,” Windsor said.

“How can [Barnaby Joyce] possibly develop a White Paper looking at the future of agriculture in this country without looking at the potential risks of climate change,” he said.

“We’ve got a current member who thinks renewable energy is a bit of a joke.”

Barnaby Joyce
Nationals MP, Barnaby Joyce. (IMAGE: Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, Flickr)

In contrast, Windsor argued renewable energy represents a good source of jobs in rural electorates like New England. The north-west New South Wales seat takes in towns like Armidale, Glenn Innes, Tamworth and Tenterfield, and was held by Windsor between 2001 and 2013. At various stages of his political career, Windsor was the most popular politician in Australia.

The fiercely independent MP, who helped Julia Gillard form a minority government in 2010, bowed out of politics in 2013 due to health complaints, which have since cleared up. This morning, he made it clear the issues Labor had championed and which attracted his support in 2010 remain key concerns.

“I’m not [running]for a popularity contest,” he said. “Someone’s got to start and stand up on these issues and what I see is a group of people, and Barnaby Joyce is one of them… [who is] not prepared to embrace the future,” he said.

“The message is [that]if people want their future to be different – in terms of climate, renewable energy, water resources, health, education, etc – it’s in their hands,” Windsor said.

He said he will continue to fight for the implementation of Labor’s Gonski school reforms, and a fibre-to-the-home National Broadband Network. Predictably, the Shenhua Watermark mine was also identified as a major impetus behind Windsor’s political come-back.

The Chinese state-owned project has been a flashpoint of local concern because it would be developed on the Liverpool Plains, which boast Australia’s best soils and is regarded as a key Australian food-bowl.

The Watermark Mine has proved a vexed issue for Joyce, who stunningly declared “the world has gone mad” when his own government approved the controversial project. It has outraged many in the farming community because of fears it will damage precious underground water resources.

One of Windsor’s greatest achievement during his time in the Federal parliament was his role in developing the ‘water trigger’, which led to recognition of the importance of water under national environmental law.

He said he has reached the view that the government is trying to “water down the water trigger,” and accused the Deputy Prime Minister of being “complicit by neglect” in the Federal government’s approval of the Shenhua project.

“The Liverpool Plains has the biggest groundwater resource in the Murray Darling basin and it is that groundwater resource… that needs to be fought for,” Windsor said.

“The current member has done absolutely nothing in terms of that issue. Nothing.

“In fact he’s been complicit by neglect, in shifting to the side some of the risk assessment processes, moving to the side the bioregional assessment process that was set up to assess the capacity of that landscape and the water resource that’s under it, to assess the potential and cumulative implications of a number of extractive industries.”

In a sign of the bitter and forthright battle to come, which could see the Deputy Prime Minister deposed, and the National Party lose its leader, Windsor labelled Joyce Malcolm Turnbull’s “Deputy Dog”.

“I’m serious about this, we’ll mount a full scale grassroots campaign, and I’m fully aware it’ll be a David and Goliath event,” he said.

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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