You’re meant to sit on the crossbench, not the fence
Independent MP Tony Windsor yesterday continued what is becoming a pattern of rather cryptic and fencing sitting statements.
He told The Australian that he wasn’t sure he supported the Murray Darling Basin plan to buy back 3000-4000 gigalitres of water from irrigators, and that perhaps the Government should look at other methods to return water to the system like diverting water from other areas.
This is a perfectly legitimate stance, although it was his other comment about the likelihood of any legislation on the plan succeeding in Parliament that is confusing. Windsor told The Australian and later the ABC that he didn’t think any legislation would see “the light of day” in this Parliament:
Journalist: Do you think that the Murray-Darling Basin plan, as it stands, will ever be implemented?
Windsor: Well we’ve spent 100 years talking about some of this stuff.
I’d suggest that there’s a reasonable chance that it probably won’t see the light of day this term of parliament.
Once a lot of the politics, etc, kick in, and that will be a shame in a lot of ways because there is an issue that needs addressing,” he told the AM program.
Windsor makes this observation like some kind of disinterested observer, pointing out the politics of the thing will just make it unworkable. He briefs us like a foreign correspondent who’s just been asked by his bureau chief in Rotterdam what the feeling is like in Australia at moment.
The weird thing about this statement is Windsor seems to forget that, following the election, he’s someone with a great deal of power to make things happen one way or the other. As if somehow the plan were to fail it would be the fault of the Machievillian construct of evil politics that he had no control over.
Windsor appears to be objecting to a rather central recommendation of the Basin report – which many in the bush would happily back him on – and with the same breath seems to say it would be a shame if the report didn’t get up in Parliament.
To rework a phrase: Windsor is walking both sides of the river.
There’s a similarly baffling level of acceptance of Parliamentary inertia on Windsor’s behalf when it comes to the climate change committee.
Windsor sits on the Prime Minister’s committee investigating ways to implement a carbon price or tax. It’s a committee that by definition accepts the need for a carbon price - and Windsor makes all the right noises about the need for a carbon price to address global warming - but Windsor actually never says he backs one.
Here’s Windsor on the 7:30 Report late last month:
Kerry O’Brien: Do you believe unequivocally that there should be a price on carbon?
Windsor: I think there will be globally at some time in the future and I think – the way I’m addressing this – but I think there’s a bit of a mistake there to come up with a predestined decision and then have a procedure over twelve months to come to that decision . . . I think when people say price they think of emissions trading or they think carbon tax. That doesn’t necessarily have to follow.
In other words: I accept that there will be a carbon price but I won’t fight for one. I’ll sit on a committee that accepts the need for one, but I won’t back it.
Windsor of course has every right to object to a carbon price, it’s just that he doesn’t appear to back himself to say it. That would mean taking a stance, and taking a stance on it could run contrary to the nice noises he’s been making about a need for action on global warming.
This would all be fine if Windsor was in his old inconsequential cross-bench position, but the election has left him with the balance of power in the new Parliament. He and the other independents are also in the habit of reminding us every 20 minutes that Australia voted for this outcome so we should make it work.
You can’t embrace the philosophy of the new paradigm and then blame old politics when you’re one who could make a difference. Tag Tony – you’re it.
Yesterday the Government announced Windsor would chair a new inquiry into the Murray-Darling basin plan’s impact on regional communities. It will be interesting to see whether he uses this position to come up with a stance, or further construct his Byzantine reasoning that allows him not to support or oppose anything.
We know that Windsor stood for more money for hospitals and infrastructure for his constituency, but that’s kind of the political equivalent of saying as a human being I stand for the intake of oxygen, nutrients and a periodic sleep in.
There is something in Windsor’s behaviour that people should be wise to in all the cross-benchers in this term: blaming a do-nothing Parliament on the clashes of the major parties when they aren’t actually backing either side for the purposes of political expediency.
Whether Windsor and the other independents like it or not, sitting on the cross-bench no longer means you can sit on the fence.
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