The Effluent Billabong: Last Stop For Oakeshott And Windsor

A Newspoll published in today’s issue of The Australian seems to confirm what everyone else already knows — that Independent federal MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are riding on a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Newspoll shows primary vote support for the pair has virtually halved since last year’s election: Windsor’s falling from 62% to 33%; Oakeshott’s from 47% to 26%.

Unsurprisingly, were Newspoll’s findings replicated at a fresh election, both would lose to National Party candidates — in a landslide.

Newspoll has specifically asked respondents how they would allocate preferences in the two seats; in both districts, people indicated they would preference away from the Independents, which would see Windsor lose 47-53 in New England to the Nationals, and Oakeshott by a whopping 38-62 in Lyne, after preferences.

If preferences were distributed as they had been at last year’s election Oakeshott would be gone in any case, whilst Windsor would quite literally be 50-50 and line ball.

It doesn’t surprise me Windsor’s position is less dire than Oakeshott’s; he is the more astute of the two, and his electorate has been showered with government largesse since he entered the agreement to support Gillard’s minority government.

And after all, since he came to national prominence, Oakeshott — with his penchant for making windy, wordy speeches that actually say nothing — is a stellar advertisement for pretty much anybody else standing in his electorate.

Oakeshott says he’s not surprised his support in Lyne has collapsed; Windsor says he’s “heartened” that more people in his electorate haven’t turned on him. That’s right, Tony: it’s heartening indeed when your constituents indicate your papers are stamped and that you’re involuntarily departing at the next stop. It’s so very heartening that so many more of them may yet decide to get in on the action.

It’s no surprise as to how this situation has come about.

Had these gentlemen been Independents elected in comparably safe ALP seats — say, off the top of my head, Blaxland or Batman — their constituents might be a little less unforgiving of their decision to prop up a Labor government which is determinedly  pursuing a decidedly left-wing agenda.

Instead, they hold two of the most conservative electorates in Australia, and rural conservatism tends to be a vastly more residual beast than its city cousin.

And rural conservative electorates, generally, are staunchly opposed to the carbon tax being introduced by Gillard and her commie mates — a tax both Windsor and Oakeshott voted to support.

If this sounds like two MPs with a political death wish, Newspoll can confirm that the carbon tax is opposed by 72% of electors in Oakeshott’s seat of Lyne; in New England, the figure is 71%. Approval for the measure stands at 22% in both electorates.

Even were the two MPs to do a U-turn and throw in their lot with Tony Abbott, engineering a change of government, the damage to their electoral prospects is probably irreversible.

There’s recent precedent, too — three Independents elected in safe conservative electorates put the ALP in power in Victoria in 1999, sealing the ouster of Jeff Kennett’s government.

Susan Davies in the ultra-conservative electorate of Gippsland West was thrown out at the 2002 election; Russell Savage survived in Mildura on the back of his personal vote for an additional term until 2006, when confronted with an extremely strong campaign by the Nationals; and Craig Ingram saw his seat of Gippsland East finally reclaimed by the Coalition last year. Davies was quite openly an ALP member and had stood in Gippsland West for the ALP prior to winning it as an Independent in a by-election.

The point is that Davies held a seat with great similarities to Lyne and New England; what happened to her in the end should serve as a warning to Oakeshott and Windsor.

But it won’t.

Indeed, I’ve heard reports (which I can’t confirm — I haven’t been to Port Macquarie in years) that there are businesses in that fine town, particularly light industries, with placards on their fences warning Oakeshott isn’t welcome. I stress I can’t confirm that but by the same token it wouldn’t surprise me.

But they don’t get it — they simply don’t get it.

I quote here Oakeshott, directly from The Australian: “I don’t know what will happen at next ballot (sic), but I will turn up and stand in front of my community and say Pacific Highway tick; hospital funding tick; university funding tick; regional development finally underway, tick; certainty from an emissions trading scheme, tick…”

Oakeshott goes on to say he is focused on making “good judgement calls” and that making difficult decisions doesn’t make those decisions “any less right.”

Well, one of his “good judgement calls” is obviously not an astute reading of his electorate — the people who voted for him — because any idiot with no political acumen whatsoever could see they disagree with virtually everything he has done.

Windsor, for his part, says he thinks his voters will “come to understand the importance” of things like the carbon tax, and that he will indeed stand for re-election whenever the next election comes up. Tony Windsor is a nice guy, but I think he’s kidding himself.

Unbelievably — given the Newspoll figures seeing him losing his seat — he even claims “not to be all that disappointed” with the result. Well, quite, but if I had a seat in Parliament that I wanted to hang onto, I wouldn’t be going about things the way this pair are.

From a general perspective, and in light of the malodorous nature of this matter, I could make some reference to heads up backsides — but I won’t.

No, the good ship Independent Denial sails on; crewed by Messrs Oakeshott and Windsor it sails, inexorably, up the effluent billabong, and runs aground.

And would you believe — there’s nary a paddle in sight?

Now you know what that stench is, don’t you…

The National Party Of Australia: Times Of Renewal?

A small sub-plot in what’s going on in federal politics at the moment involves the National Party; for decades now an entity in decline, an opportunity presents for this once-proud party to grasp a generational opportunity for renewal.

Three of its traditional federal seats — Kennedy, Lyne and New England — are all held by Independents; with the anti-Labor mood sweeping the country (and the anti-Independent mood sweeping along with that), the Nationals stand a good chance of bolstering their historically low level of representation in the House of Representatives.

It has been long-known that the leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Barnaby Joyce, seeks to transfer to a lower house seat at the next election.

Joyce had preferred the sprawling Queensland seat of Maranoa, held by former Howard government minister Bruce Scott; Scott has refused to retire, however, and so Barnaby has been forced to look further afield…

…as far as the NSW electorate of New England, currently held by Independent Tony Windsor. New England is where Joyce grew up and still has family; he and the electorate are a perfect fit.

With the added bonus, of course, that Scott can stay in Maranoa (which will always be a safe conservative electorate) and Barnaby can add a seat to the Nationals’ pile in the lower house.

The Fairfax press today has published a story claiming NSW deputy Premier (and state Nationals leader) Andrew Stoner is likely to contest the NSW electorate of Lyne, currently held by another National-turned-Independent, Rob Oakeshott.

Fairfax’ story is presented through the paradigm of Stoner going to Canberra to place a bar on the eventual ambition of Barnaby Joyce to assume the federal leadership of the National Party.

The candidature of both Joyce and Stoner, in the respectively-listed seats, carry obvious benefits to the Nationals: both are highly likely to knock off the Independent incumbents, and reclaim seats for the National Party that should probably have never been at risk of falling in the first place.

Yet there is also an opportunity for the Nationals here on a wider basis.

Both Stoner and Joyce are relatively young but considerably accomplished men; both now possess some years’ parliamentary experience, and each is formidable in terms of what he can offer his Party — or to an employer away from the public sector.

The point here is that for the first time in a very long time, there’s “competition for spots” in the National Party; and the fact that it may potentially be fought by two young-ish and relatively talented blokes will likely send a signal back into the heartland of the party.

It’s very possible that out of a storm cloud, a silver lining emerges.

The storm cloud for the Nationals isn’t the Gillard government (although Labor in the past 20 years has begun to poach traditional National seats).

Rather, it is the historical decline of their party; whether through seat losses to the Liberals, population change that has delivered seats like Richmond and Page in NSW to Labor; or even the fact Independents like Oakeshott and Windsor can take seats off them at all.

The federal election which is at most 23 months away is likely to see a huge influx of new conservative members in the subsequent Parliament.

I just wonder whether, headed by Joyce and Stoner, the time is ripe for the Nationals to reinvigorate themselves, attract new supporters, and look to restore their falling levels of representation over the past couple of decades.

I’m posting more on my thoughts alone tonight, rather than on any predictions.

What do people think?