FORMER rural independent MP Tony Windsor remains motivated to return to federal politics and fight key issues like climate change risk impacts on farmers and regional Australia benefitting from the National Broadband Network’s implementation.
But with growing talk of an early election, Mr Windsor is yet to make a formal decision on whether he will take another shot at Canberra.
Mr Windsor indicated to Fairfax Media in September last year he was a better than 50 per cent chance of making a return to federal politics, after he resigned ahead of the 2013 election.
This week, the retired politician and farmer - who held the balance of power in the previous parliament with fellow rural MP Rob Oakeshott - said his considerations remained around the same level.
But he warned against interpreting any political comeback as automatically meaning it would be against his nemesis and Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce, for his former seat of New England in rural NSW.
“People jump to this conclusion about this battle in New England against Barnaby Joyce but all I’ve ever said is that I don’t rule out a return to politics,” he said.
“And I’ve not ruled out the Senate – there are a number of options on the table.”
Mr Windsor said he wouldn’t make any final decision until he knew the outcome of a family health matter that he preferred wasn’t publicly disclosed.
“I’m still contemplating it and I’m not ruling anything out,” he said.
”If it’s a positive decision – or a negative decision – I’ll make it at a time that suits me.”
Mr Windsor said the key question he had to answer was whether he wanted to fight for the core rural and farming issues he passionately believed in and constantly advocated – like farmers mitigating climate variability risks and improving the NBN’s roll-out – again in the political arena.
He said Mr Joyce was a “low key” representative with a “glaring” absence on taking “constructive action” to prevent damage to underground water sources - that underpin agriculture on the Liverpool Plains - via the Chinese backed Shenhua coal mine project.
“If Barnaby Joyce was serious about the Shenhua issue he would have reignited the bio-regional assessment process,” he said.
Mr Windsor said that assessment option was available under the “water trigger” legislation he introduced in the last parliament to give the commonwealth powers to invoke independent scientific assessments of the potential environmental impacts of coal mining and coal seam gas developments.
But he said Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the Shenhua mine Last year failed to utilise the Independent Expert Scientific Committee’s ability to conduct a bioregional assessment and had only accepted the mining company’s version of the potential impacts and a “desktop study” by the CSIRO.
Mr Windsor said the federal government was now saying it had the capacity to “press the stop button on the mine” but that statement was only “placating the gathered crowd to make it seem as if they’re doing something – but they’re not”.
“There are a number of issues out there for Barnaby Joyce to address and if he was going to do anything about it, he would have done it by now,” he said.
“But all he seems to do is run this circular argument about the government claiming great credit for high beef and cattle prices.”
But Mr Joyce said Mr Windsor’s ongoing lack of commitment on whether he’d stand for federal politics again was reducing his credibility level, with voters.
“It’s a bit like going out with a girl,” he said.
“You don’t say ‘look I’m 50pc certain I want to go out with you but I’m just going to talk to my wife - but I’m 50pc certain that you’re almost right for me’.
“If you really want it you go for it and grab it with both hands but now it’s all becoming a bit bizarre.”
Mr Joyce said when the opportunity presented itself to challenge Mr Windsor for New England leading into the last election he, “wanted it, worked hard for it and grabbed it with both hands”.
“I came down from Queensland having sold my house, resigned from my job as a Senator and bought a house in Tamworth before I was elected,” he said.
“That’s called commitment and it means you really want to do the job.
But to sit on the sidelines and say ’I’m just about there but have a few more people to talk to and then I’ll decide’, just sounds odd.”
Recent changes to the NSW federal election boundaries mean the Shenhua mine has moved from the New England electorate and returned to National party MP Mark Coulton’s neighbouring electorate of Parkes where it was located when the NSW government first approved an exploration licence in 2008.