TENSIONS between Independent MP Tony Windsor and Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce flared up in a robust exchange in the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra on Wednesday.
As politicians walked the press gallery discussing the previous night’s budget, Mr Windsor and Senator Joyce unexpectedly crossed paths, sparking a brief but fiery exchange.
Senator Joyce had earlier used parliamentary privilege to try and link the $4.625 million sale of Mr Windsor’s family farming property to Werris Creek Coal, a subsidiary of Whitehaven Coal, and corruption allegations against former NSW Labor Resources Minister Ian Macdonald.
Relations between the pair are already strained with Senator Joyce challenging for Mr Windsor’s New England seat at the upcoming federal election, in a bid to enter the Lower House.
Senator Joyce said he was “accosted” by an angry Mr Windsor who told him to “say it outside”.
Mr Windsor was referring to the comments Senator Joyce made in a three-minute speech in Senate debate on Tuesday on Mr Windsor’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (EPBCA) Bill, which is linked to water protection measures for coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mining projects.
Senator Joyce said the Bill - which has already passed the Lower House - would be supported by the Coalition and Mr Windsor was one of its “grand architects”.
“Minister Macdonald was the minister in NSW when Mr Windsor sold his place for a very good price; for a very good price,” Senator Joyce said in the Senate debate.
Mr Macdonald is currently the subject of a high profile corruption investigation in NSW over allegedly corrupt mining deals.
“But it is a question we rightly want to ask: how do you manage to sell your place for such a good price?
“How do you manage to get three times what it is worth?
“I do not know. Do you know? How do you? It is such a great trick.”
In a letter to the editor in July 2010 addressed to “those who believe they have an interest in my family’s private business”, Mr Windsor detailed 13 points designed to clarify, “nonsense” pedalled by the Nationals and Labor parties regarding the sale.
He said the property in question wasn’t on the Liverpool Plains and the “gravel ridge” country had no water resources under it.
“A gravel ridge is the type of land that should be mined, not the fertile land of the Liverpool Plains,” he wrote.
“Contrary to the hypocrisy charges being thrown about by the Nationals and Labor Party, I have never been opposed to mining.
“This is clearly borne out by my assistance to Whitehaven to originally set up in the Gunnedah area when I was the State Member for Tamworth and my support for the current Werris Creek mine over a decade ago.”
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Senator Joyce said his political foe was “highly sensitive about the sale of his land to a coal mining company which he made an extremely good price for, a bit less than $5000 an acre”.
“He’s so sensitive about it that he wants to accost me as I walk through the corridors of parliament house and he did it in front of people,” he said.
“Everyone can attest to it, I walked past Mr Windsor and in an agitated state, he asked if I would take something outside.
“At the start I thought he wanted to fight me, which I thought was a bit beyond his age.
“I think it’s fair enough Mr Windsor answers questions about this… it seems peculiar… he’s terribly sensitive about it.”
Senator Joyce said he was unable to ascertain if Mr Windsor was accusing him of hiding behind parliamentary privilege, by suggesting a connection to Mr Macdonald in the Senate debate.
“I don’t know what he’s implying because he didn’t mention the accusation he was talking about... there’s no accusation I can think that I’ve made, that needs to be answered,” he said.
“What is the accusation he’s accusing me of making?
“I’ve certainly called into question in the chamber that he certainly did sell his place to a mining company.
"Therefore it seems paradoxical at the least, for him to be the champion for people dealing with mining issues on the Liverpool plains, when he himself sold his property to a mining company, got an extremely good price for it and said in his own media release a gravel ridge is the type of land that should be mined, not the fertile soils of the Liverpool plains.
“His place, at Werris Creek, may not technically be on the Liverpool plains but there’s a mighty big mine next to it.
“He’s just trying to ride both sides of the fence and he’s extremely sensitive about the issue and it was there for all to see.
“He never reproached me about an accusation that was wrong, he just said go outside and say it.
“He’s taken a three-minute speech in the chamber and now he’s given it oxygen outside.
“He could have walked past me and laughed it off but he didn’t. He’s like a cat on a hot tin roof and I think it’s only fair that we ask why.”
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Windsor said he was offended by the inference from Senator Joyce of a connection with Mr Macdonald.
He said Senator Joyce was “on very shaky ground legally if he starts making those inferences out in the public arena”.
“And that’s essentially what I said, ‘have a bit of courage mate if you’re saying these sorts of things say them outside’,” he said.
“He’s saying it in the parliament, he’s entitled to do that, but that shows what he’s about.”
Mr Windsor said the side play was that Senator Joyce was “absolutely in agony” over the conflict between his personal views on the EPBCA Bill and the party’s position.
He said the Senate attack was all about trying to create a diversion, “look over there while I do this over here”.