Former independent MP Tony Windsor, one of the crucial crossbenchers who kept the Gillard government in power, is set to announce he will run in his old seat of New England against Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Windsor, 65, held the seat from 2001 to 2013, when he retired citing health and family reasons. Joyce switched from the Senate, where he represented Queensland, to win the NSW seat.
Windsor was coy on Wednesday, taking to Twitter to say: “Contrary to some reports in the media I haven’t made any announcements in relation to any political intentions. Will do tomorrow 10am.”
But he told the ABC’s Lateline, whose reporter followed him around the electorate this week: “I have this saying that the world is run by those who turn up, so if you’re concerned about the world you live in, should you try and do something about it?”
Windsor will position himself as fighting to get a better deal for the electorate. When he was in his balance-of-power position, New England received a great deal of largesse. Windsor says that now, “rather than new things happening in the electorate, some of the old things are leaving”.
But Joyce will argue that the electorate is much better placed when its MP is a senior member of the government than an independent without power.
A ReachTEL poll of 712 voters in the seat in January found 32.2% would vote for Windsor and 39.5% for Joyce. The poll was done for the CFMEU.
Joyce has a margin of nearly 20%. While the Nationals believe they will hold the electorate, the challenge will mean that Joyce, fighting his first campaign as Nationals leader and very popular in regional Australia, will have to spend more time in his seat than he otherwise would have.
One issue on which Windsor will campaign is his opposition to the planned Shenhua coal mine – of which Joyce has also been highly critical. The proposed mine, still in a long approval process, was in the New England electorate but the redistribution has put it into the neighbouring Nationals seat of Parkes.
Windsor launched a strong attack on Joyce when he became leader in February saying he was “a retail politician not a detail politician”. He thought Joyce would make things difficult for Malcolm Turnbull. “I think unless there’s a hard rein kept on Barnaby Joyce, he’ll be tending to represent the sort of Abbott crazies, as I call them, rather than a unified team looking at long-term policy.”