Independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are two reasons why this minority government has – in spite of all dire mutterings and pronouncements of doom – functioned, and functioned well. It’s due to their insistence on examining legislation on its merits, refusing to be pressured by either the Government or the Opposition, that we have been faced with neither paralysis nor a runaway agenda. They’ve taken pains to consult with everyone from the Prime Minister to fellow Independent Andrew Wilkie to their local constituents, and helped broker significant parliamentary reforms.
And for their pains, what have they received? I’ve already written about the amount of ridicule levelled at Oakeshott for his tendency to speak his mind at length. Windsor became the target of an extraordinary amount of venom from the National Party, accused of everything from treason to megalomania. Nonetheless, they’ve continued to do their jobs, and done them well.
Their dedication to behaving as politicians should – as representatives who put the nation’s interests above their own gain – has gained them little praise, and far too much criticism. Australian politics is richer for their contribution.
And now, Australia will be far poorer.
This morning, Oakeshott announced that he will not contest the September 14 election. He described the last three years as the toughest of his life – which, frankly, is an understatement. Remember, this man has been subject to relentless criticism simply for doing his job.
He was followed a little later by a tearful Tony Windsor, who cited family and health issues as the reason for his resignation. He added that the ‘vitriol’ to which he’d been subjected had affected his family, and said, ‘I don’t really want to be here in three years’ time’.
With their resignations, their respective seats will probably return to the National Party, adding to what looks like an increasingly decisive Coalition victory in September. Senator Barnaby Joyce should now successfully move to the Lower House without Windsor to stand against him in New England. Lyne is a little more uncertain; the landslide to Oakeshott in 2010 left both major parties neck and neck.
This is a dreadful day for Australian politics. After the election, there will be two less independent voices, two fewer voices of reason. If the minor parties don’t succeed in increasing their share of seats, there’s a real possibility the Coalition will control both Houses outright. That would reduce the Senate to nothing more than a rubber stamp for any legislation (or, indeed, any of the Coalition’s promised repeals). Opposition would be completely ineffective. Even with Windsor and Oakeshott in the Parliament, we may well see that result. The more voices to speak up, to question, to represent a different point of view, however, at least there would be proper scrutiny.
Both men made the point that they’re not ‘quitting’. Oakeshott, in particular, said he had no fear of the upcoming election campaign. There’s no doubt, though, that bullying was a factor – and I don’t use the word lightly. Being subjected, day after day, to relentless harassment, wears down even the strongest of us.
Some might say that constant criticism is something any politician should expect. Of course, that’s true. Just as with the vicious insults heaped on the Prime Minister, however, there is a material difference between criticising someone’s decisions and attacking the person.
Christopher Pyne just remarked piously on the curious fact that people never believe it when a politician announces their resignation ‘for family reasons’, even though that’s why most politicians leave. Not five minutes later, he asserted that the ‘real’ reason Windsor and Oakeshott were leaving was because they didn’t want to lose their seats in September. It’s not only an asinine statement, given their 2010 election results – it’s a perfect example of the nonsense to which the Independents have been subjected.
Oakeshott and Windsor deserve praise – not because they were knights in shining armour, or martyrs to a cause. They deserve praise because they are reasonable men who took their job seriously. Because they insisted on scrutiny, and research, and consultation. Because they always tried to act in the best interests of the nation, even when it had the potential to damage their own causes.
Because they did their work wisely, and well.
Mr Oakeshott, Mr Windsor, the nation will be poorer without your voices in Parliament. You have been an example of how politics should work. You are men of integrity who did not flinch in the face of enormous pressure. We can only hope that future politicians will look to your example, rather than some of the more volatile, high profile figures of today.
Thank you, Mr Oakeshott.
Thank you, Mr Windsor.
We wish you well.