Crikey’s man in the Canberra press gallery, Hugo Kelly, has been
following the Windsorgate saga with great interest. This is how he has
reported all the action to Crikey’s subscribers:
Windsor’s knot tightens
Subscriber email November 19
Our man in the press gallery, Hugo Kelly, reports from beneath the Golden Guitar in Peel Street, Tamworth:
So, Tamworth bigwig Greg Maguire has turned his back on his old mate,
Tony Windsor, and denied he was the conduit for a bribery offer by
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.
Giving a lunchtime press conference in his massive Powerhouse Pub, and
looking all shocked and offended, the local business overlord rejected
outright Windsor’s “offensive and untrue” allegations.
declared with the straightest face worth mustering: “The reality of the
meeting at the centre of the controversy is that Mr Windsor has
responded badly to personal comments and criticisms about how he was
becoming ineffective in his representation of the New England area.”
In the words of Mandy Rice-Davies: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
What choice did he have? Make a full and frank admission, backing up
Windsor’s story, in the face of staunch denials from the Deputy Prime
Minister. And, for his troubles, face charges of bribery by the Federal
Did anyone expect him to come bounding into the front bar of his pub and exclaim: “Fair cop, Gov’ner. Yep, I done it.”
No, Maguire took the safest option available: turn your back on the renegade Independent and burn him to a cinder.
Joe Hockey was quick to move in, calling on Windsor to quit – even
before Maguire made his statement. Fat chance, Joe. Windsor’s just been
re-elected with a 72% all-party preferred vote. You’d have a better
chance blasting him out with dynamite than getting him to meekly resign
And what of the two witnesses Windsor cited who, presumably, have
backed up his version of events to the police: his campaign helpers
Helen Tickle and Stephen Hall. Does this come down to the word of the
Windsor camp vs the Maguire faction, and are their statements still in
There are plenty of loose ends yet to be tied up in Tony Windsor’s knot.
Hugo Kelly looks back 30 years to another great political bribery scandal:
Windsorgate seems pretty sensational to current political observers,
but those with a long memory reckon it’s got nothing on the Gair Affair.
Longtime press gallery operator Rob Chalmers gave an interesting perspective of the ramifications of that episode in The Oz today: Political inducements part of a long tradition
“The classic case was the generous offer of Gough Whitlam to Vince Gair
of the post of ambassador to Ireland in 1974. Gair was a DLP senator
and Whitlam hoped it would give the ALP a chance of getting the numbers
in the Senate. In the end, it didn’t,” writes Chalmers.
The difference with the Windsor case was that Gair actually wanted a
new job. And the personalities. The wonderfully florid personalities:
Whitlam, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Doug Anthony, John Kerr…
30 years later, and Windsorgate features worthy-but-dull political
operatives like John Anderson, Tony Windsor, Sandy Macdonald and, on
the margins, John Howard.
Keen to relive the drama of ’74, Crikey tried to get hold of one of the
men at the centre of the Gair heist, Whitlam’s then press secretary,
Eric Walsh. But by 11 am, he was out to lunch. (It’s Friday in
So we turned to Hugh Lunn’s superb 1978 biography of the then
Queensland Premier, called, aptly: “Joh”. With apologies to Alan
Ramsey, we quote great slabs of the book to illustrate the story. Lunn
“Since he had first heard of Senator Gair’s appointment to Dublin on
the morning radio news, Bjelke-Petersen and his legal experts crowded
into his small parliamentary office…Joh told them he somehow wanted
the Gair seat declared a casual vacancy so it could, under the
constitution, be filled by the Queensland Government until the next
House of Reps election – thus blocking the ALP move to control the
“As the premier picked at some chops on a small side table in his
office at lunchtime, his advisors told him it just might work – but the
writs for the coming Senate elections in Queensland had to be issued at
6pm that day and it had to be done at least a day before Senator Gair
formally resigned. It was almost certainly too late.
“While one of his advisors checked with outside legal experts and an
academic to see if they concurred, the premier phoned Doug Anthony in
Canberra. They agreed that Senator Gair must be kept occupied during
the afternoon and evening so that his resignation could not be
submitted until the next day. Joh gathered his advisors and went
through the machinery of issuing the writs.
“Meanwhile, in Canberra, Gair was feted at a beer-and-Queensland king
prawns evening to make sure he was not available to hand in his
“Bjelke-Petersen had contacted his old friend, Country party senator
and whip, Ron Maunsell – a Queenslander and a long-time friend of Gair
– and told him to keep Gair busy. A man as isolated and ostracized as
Gair was only too willing to share the evening with friendly company
eating Townsville prawns…”
And so developed an evening that was to become known as “The Night of
the Long Prawns,” and which contributed, ultimately, to the downfall of
the Whitlam Government.
Gair – in an era before mobile phones – was kept out of circulation,
Joh declared the half-Senate election before the renegade senator could
quit, and Whitlam lost his chance to get a Senate majority.
Windsorgate features a few wild characters: predominently Greg Maguire
and his weird bicycle museum, not to mention his proposed ‘Australian
Equine and Livestock Centre’ – to be built with $6 million of political
patronage, courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.
But it isn’t a patch on the Gair affair.
OK. So this week was the first week Parliament was back – but did Tony Windsor return to the “bribe” story for other reasons?
This weekend voters in the New South Wales state seat of Dubbo vote in
a by-election caused by the death of Independent Tony McGrane.
Dubbo – as all Reels fans know – was held by New South Wales Liberal leader John Mason in the 1970s.
Nat Jen Cowley is desperate to win it back for the conservatives and
fight off independent challenger and Dubbo deputy mayor Dawn Fardell –
and is pulling out all the stops.
Did this play any factor in Windsor’s announcement?
As John MacFarlane said to Eleanor Hall on the World Today yesterday:
This is a question, Eleanor, being
posed by a lot of people in Tamworth. The meeting was allegedly in May
when this alleged offer was made, yet Tony Windsor decided not to make
it public until September, shortly before the federal election.
Now he’s gone to the Parliament and
made this statement naming Anderson and Macdonald only 48 hours before
the by-election in Dubbo. That of course is a state by-election to find
a successor to the late Tony McGrane, who died of cancer just recently,
and Tony Windsor and Tony McGrane were very close friends, and a lot of
people are asking just what was the reason for the timing.
Read the full World Today transcript here.
Our man in the press gallery, Hugo Kelly, has been working hard and writes:
John Howard flies out to Chile for an APEC meeting with George Bush
today, leaving John Anderson running the country in the face of an
unwanted and dangerously volatile personal storm.
Before Howard could escape for his happy post-election reunion,
Labor hammered Anderson in Question Time, with eight questions about
Tony Windsor’s “political bribery” allegations.
Windsor had earlier fronted Parliament for a second time to flesh
out his allegations – and bolster the morale of the man in the middle,
Tamworh businessman Greg McGuire: Windsor fleshes out bribe claims
Question time threw up nothing conclusive, but the story is buzzing on the Net. Margo Kingston’s Webdiary is full of feedback.
Check out our coverage of last night’s claims as the story unfolded on the site here: http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2004/11/17-0006.html
Windsor vs Anderson: the missing link?
Like most people, we found the whole bribery yarn highly improbable.
Until we heard two words in today’s media reports, and suddenly the
accusations took on a fresh flavour.
Those two words: Wendy Armstrong.
“Whispering” Wendy Armstrong made her name in Queensland as a staffer
to Joh Bjelke-Petersen, when she steered the Queensland Premier around
by the nose.
One National operative with a long memory says this: “I really believe
there has never been a more powerful and manipulative staffer in the
history of Australian politics. ‘Whispering Wendy’ – a legend.
“This episode has her stamp of operations ALL over it – the accusations have got legs. Count on it.”
The Opposition was up in Question Time today asking Anderson whether
he’d told Wendy to “leave the room while a politically sensitive matter
was discussed” with Greg McGuire. This seems hardly necessary, given
Any of our subscribers have information about the career and modus
operandi of Wendy Armstrong? Send it to our man in the press gallery:
The main protagonists in this story share bad blood going back years. Check out today’s Steve Lewis backgrounder in The Ozhere.
And the mutual dislike was apparent last night in Parliament as Windsor
and Anderson exchanged claims in the adjournment debate. Something you
won’t read in the Hansard was their final exchange.
As Anderson prepared to leave the chamber, Windsor shouted out: “Call yourself a Christian!”
Anderson shot back: “What’s that got to do with it?” The Deputy PM then
headed towards his accuser, and the two men shared a few choice private
words which our operative in the press gallery could neither hear nor
Anderson was unlikely to be inviting Windsor to his Christmas party.