Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, John Anderson has been cleared by the Federal Police of misconduct in the bribery accusations made against him by popular Independent, Tony Windsor. But the churlish display by both Anderson and Senator Sandy Macdonald in calling for the resignation of Windsor - and even worse, the claim that neither he nor his electorate of New England could now find any Ministerial doors open to them - raises some serious doubts about political integrity in this country.
While politicians are often critical of their opponents linking government assistance and investment to specific electorates as rewards, they all engage in it (and its more sinister cousin - denial - as punishment) to some degree. In the euphoria of victory politicians are often heard to say they will govern for all their people, even those, presumably, who didn’t vote for them, but the facts most often tell a different story.
Pettiness often triumphs over magnanimity. Surely if government investment or assistance would be good for a town or region or industry, then it would be good no matter how the people of the particular electorate voted.
It has been alleged that Tony Windsor had to divorce himself from any involvement in the proposed $6 million Tamworth National Equine and Livestock Centre to give it any hope of attracting Federal Government funding. Apparently the proposal was rejected for funding while Tony Windsor was Chairman. If it is true, this is a very unhappy example of the denial principle at work - and how could anyone doubt it after the very public and blatant threat posed by Senator Macdonald on national television?
Politics is a vicious business and certainly not for the faint-hearted. Some of the most internecine battles of all are those fought within political parties as opposed to between them. The fracas between Tony Windsor and John Anderson bears all the hallmarks of one of these because, even though the two protagonists are not now of the same party, they are certainly of the same stable.
The National Party, or at least its parent, the Australian Country Party, traditionally played very tough politics - and its constituents liked it that way, because that meant extracting concessions for the bush from its Liberal coalition partner. Recently, however, and since the advent of globalisation, most of the tough dealing has been reserved for the critics within its own constituency and Tony Windsor has of course been one of these.
For this reason - and because it has been the custom for many years for Australian political parties to offer “inducements” in the form of "tempting" overseas postings to certain people who they wanted “out of the way” - no one would have been very surprised to hear allegations of the type made by Tony Windsor.
Prior to the recent elections, everybody believed that the contest would be close - very close - and you wouldn’t have to be an Einstein to see the potential importance of Independents to the outcome. To onlookers it seemed clear that the Nationals had decided to wage a particularly savage war against Independents. Bob Katter made the claim that it was the dirtiest campaign he had ever had to fight: And that isn’t surprising given that even his stepmother made an appearance on national television to campaign for his National Party opponent in the seat of Kennedy. Showing great restraint and decency, he refused to be drawn by the media to comment on this issue and it died a natural death.
What will prove interesting is whether the millions of dollars promised in the electorate of Kennedy before the election will evaporate like the morning mist now that Katter has been returned.
In any event, as well as drawing the attention of the nation to the reward-punishment style of government conducted by handing out or denying assistance or investment in electorates according to how people voted, this issue also highlights two other disturbing features of Australian politics. These are the absolute ascendancy of party-politics which brooks no real representation of constituencies and has broken the hearts and wills of many members aspiring to actually “do” something for their communities, and the offering of “inducements” to have people out of the way of the domestic political scene.
Australia would be better served by less insistence on party-politics and more scope allowed for genuine representation. After all this is supposed to be what democracy is all about. Moreover, although a law exists to prosecute offers of political bribes, it certainly is unlikely to be tested in a situation where the recipient is happy to accept the inducement. And if the offer is unwelcome and charges are laid, one imagines it would be very difficult to make such a charge stick, because it really comes down to one person’s word against another’s.
Whatever the eventual outcome, it is high time that these disturbing aspects of Australian politics were put under intense scrutiny, and Tony Windsor would be doing us all a favour if he could ensure this happens. To suggest he needs to resign is risible.
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