FORMER independent MP Tony Windsor says he hasn’t ruled out a comeback to federal politics but is keeping his gunpowder dry on any specific details.
“The fire’s still burning,” he told Fairfax Media this week.
Mr Windsor retired from federal politics ahead of the 2013 federal election after serving his NSW electorate of New England from 2001.
Before that, he spent 10 years in the NSW parliament, starting his career by using his vote to form a minority government with the then Greiner Coalition.
But his 22-year political career was stamped by a controversial choice after the 2010 election to go with Labor over the Coalition to form a minority government, along with fellow independent MP Rob Oakeshott.
In retirement, Mr Windsor has been pursuing his agricultural passions including assisting with running his son’s farming operation.
However, he said he’s remained actively interested in the political landscape.
Mr Windsor said his standard response, when asked by people if he was interested in returning to politics was “you never know”.
“I wouldn’t write it out of the plan; but I also would not write it in,” he said.
“I thought I’d be less interested in what’s going on in politics and with different issues in my retirement but that hasn’t been the case.
“I haven’t ruled out a comeback but I also haven’t ruled it in.
“I’m still making up my mind.”
Concerned but coy
New England is currently held by National Party deputy-leader and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce who won by a convincing majority in 2013, culminating his shift to the Lower House from the Senate to fulfil leadership aspirations.
Mr Windsor said he was likely to run for New England given that’s where he still resides, but was coy on whether it would be at the next election.
He said he was “annoyed” and remained concerned federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt was pressing ahead with changes to reduce the powers of the Water Trigger Bill he implemented in the previous government.
Mr Windsor has returned to Canberra several times since his retirement to support groups lobbying for retention of the legislation.
The laws put independent, expert scientific scrutiny at the heart of coal and coal seam gas mining approval processes to protect water assets critical to agricultural production.
Threats to water and farm production remains a key issue in New England around the Shenhua Watermark coal mine on the Liverpool Plains.
Mr Windsor also expressed concerns the Abbott government was “fiddling around” with the NBN’s roll-out in rural areas, which was a key element of the $10 billion deal he struck to form the Gillard government in 2013.
He said he was also concerned New England was losing multi-million dollar defence force pilot training contracts to Sale in Victoria, which the electorate had held for 10 years despite persistent efforts to move them elsewhere.
“I’d been able to fight those moves off politically for years but even now with a man around the cabinet table those contracts have been shredded,” he said.
“Why didn’t they take those things away from the electorate when there was a useless independent MP in there?”
Health issue overstated
Mr Windsor said the health issue he cited at his retirement media conference in Canberra was given too much media focus and attention.
“Health wasn’t the main driver,” he said of his retirement reasoning.
“There were some issues including a flu that wouldn’t go away for months.”
Mr Windsor said at the time he also had persistent exhaustion and dizziness which was a suspected blood clot on the brain but was eventually ruled out by a neurologist who “put it down to something not unrelated to vertigo”.
He said he was reluctant to run at the 2010 election and had little intention of contesting the 2013 election during his final term, which was information only known by four people, including the former NSW independent for Northern Tablelands, Richard Torbay.
“But in politics you never write yourself out of anything,” Mr Windsor said.
Mr Torbay was initially pre-selected selected to run in New England for the Nationals at the 2013 election with polling suggesting he’d easily win the seat.
But he suddenly withdrew as the National Party’s candidate in March 2013, due to issues connected to ICAC which pre-dated his party membership, and was eventually replaced by Mr Joyce.
Hints in memoir
Mr Windsor said he also made a “cryptic” reference to his potential comeback to federal politics in his recently released autobiography.
In the book, he slammed the Coalition for cutting funding earmarked for vital projects in the New England electorate, including the Armidale Hospital, after he decided to not contest his seat again at the 2013 election.
He also stressed the importance of competition for rural politics.
“Hopefully a legacy of the Gillard hung parliament will be that country people learn to use their vote more strategically,” Mr Windsor wrote.
“Too many people when it comes to election day look at the brand rather than the substance of the policy mix.
“The hung parliament’s policy mix was perhaps the most regionally orientated of any parliament in history, not only in a financial sense but also in terms of priorities.”
Mr Joyce was contacted for comment.