Entirely properly, all the signs are that John Anderson will be
under the gun again over the Tony Windsor allegations when Parliament
resumes this week.

Kerry Anne-Wash reported in the Sun-Heraldyesterday
that the federal independent “will reveal startling new evidence in
Parliament this week to support his claims of bribery and political
manipulation of government grant money.

“The MP for the northern NSW seat of New England would not detail the new material, but he told the Sun-Herald he believed it would help him gain minor party support for a Senate inquiry into his allegations.”

More
importantly, Windsor has flagged plans to again use parliament to
reveal information about the way the government distributes regional
funding. The story has been overshadowed by Labor’s internal woes, but
still got a good run in the weekend political columns.

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The Sydney Morning Herald’s
Alan Ramsey has played the Gallery’s John the Baptist to Mark Latham’s,
er, crucified man, for a long time now. Yup. He’s a real voice crying
in the wilderness now. The Windsor affair is about the only distraction
from the Opposition Leader’s woes, so it was natural in one way that
Unca Alan would produce this piece – but the topic sure deserves the coverage:

“Tony
Windsor, the stoic Tamworth independent, meanwhile is being ignored in
his attempts to keep alive his pursuit of the Nationals’ leader, John
Anderson,” Ramsey wrote.

“The press has lost interest. So
too has the Federal Police after Damian Bugg, the $353,000-a-year
Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, advised them, finally, on
Monday that Windsor’s bribery accusations against Anderson and Senator
Sandy Macdonald could not sustain a prima facie case. We don’t know why
exactly, given three people claim the bribery offers were made and one
person says they weren’t, and police couldn’t bring themselves to ask
Anderson and Macdonald during their eight weeks of “investigations’.”

Good point. Plus there were the Bill Heffernan angles – and Crikey knows how interesting Bill Heffernan angles always are:

“Windsor
told the Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan he wasn’t going away either
when Heffernan phoned him two days after Windsor’s confrontation with
Anderson in Parliament. Windsor insisted to Heffernan he was telling
the truth. Some years ago, before Windsor won the federal seat of New
England from the Nationals in 2001, Heffernan approached him and asked
if Windsor would run in the seat as a Liberal. He twice made the offer,
which Heffernan confirms. Windsor believes he did so at Howard’s
request, which Heffernan denies.

“What is undeniable is
Heffernan has never been Anderson’s favourite person. They’ve clashed
several times on issues where Anderson feels Heffernan has been out to
do the Nationals down. He would not be wrong. Heffernan, a former NSW
state Liberal Party president, feels the Liberal Party treats its
junior Coalition partner too gently and that its dwindling numbers
should be made to earn their political keep, not cosseted as the losers
they’ve become.

“Windsor will try to revive his argument
with Anderson in Parliament, though his only support comes from the
Greens. The Democrats, their Senate numbers now half what they were
three years ago, have folded on the issue, and Labor is showing no
interest in supporting the Greens’ call for a Senate inquiry. Labor’s
noisy feeding on itself has pretty much left Windsor to fight alone,
despite the glaring holes in the so-called police ‘investigation’.”

The
best thing, however, is that Ramsey wasn’t the only columnist writing
on this curious issue on the weekend. Shaun Carney, who is wise enough
to cover Canberra a safe distance away from the centre of the
maelstrom, had some interesting comments to make on l’affaire Windsor
in Saturday’s Age, too.

At the peak of the
Profumo scandal, the Times thundered forth with an editorial headed “It
is a moral issue”. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, let alone his
defence minister, were doomed. Normally, in journalism, revelation is
more potent than exhortation. Only a few writers have been able to make
a mark with sheer moral authority and literary cogency – but Carney had
a pretty good go.

“Our
MPs just don’t get it: cynicism and self-interest are not a good look,”
he wrote. He referred to the Australian Federal Police announcement
that “following investigations, it would not be proceeding with the
Windsor matter. It had referred material to the Commonwealth Director
of Public Prosecutions, Damian Bugg, QC, who had subsequently advised
that the evidence gathered by the AFP would not be enough to sustain a
charge.

“The police interviews took place some time ago
and were passed on to Bugg two days before the October 9 election.
Forty-six days after Bugg received them, but only five days after
Windsor named Anderson, Macdonald and Maguire under parliamentary
privilege, the AFP declared that there was no case to answer.

“By
rights, the police announcement should be the end of the whole thing.
But is it? Irrespective of the Howard Government’s election victory, or
any views about how much the Coalition deserves to remain in power,
there is a fundamental issue at stake here.

“What
happened in the House of Representatives on Wednesday last week was
that one Member of Parliament – in this case, Windsor – declared that
he believed he had been offered an inducement in a meeting back in May
by a man on behalf of another MP in a neighbouring seat: Anderson.

“You
can think that Windsor, who before taking New England in 2001 was a
member of the New South Wales Parliament, is a decent fellow but a bit
of crank, perhaps with an axe to grind against Anderson and the
Nationals over past disagreements, and real or imagined slurs.

“You
can also think that Anderson, a good-looking, well-spoken,
well-educated man who is a Christian, and who has known tragedy several
times in his life, would just never, ever have any involvement in that
sort of thing. Indeed, a good deal of the commentary and analysis
coming out of Canberra in recent days has gone along these lines.

“But
the inescapable fact is that Windsor’s allegations are of great moment.
They go to the heart of the public’s belief and confidence in the
integrity of its public representatives. They also, as a consequence,
involve public confidence in the institutions that have the
responsibility of overseeing law enforcement at the national level: the
AFP and the Commonwealth DPP.

“So why did the AFP not, as
a matter of course, interview Anderson and Macdonald? Why did Anderson
and Macdonald, once they were named by Windsor in Parliament last week,
insist that they be interviewed by the police so as to put the question
of their innocence beyond doubt?

“If you watch public or
corporate life for long, the old saw that faced with a conspiracy or a
stuff-up you should always go for the stuff-up pretty readily becomes
standard operating procedure. All the same, you have to wonder how it
is that, after the interview material had been with the DPP for a full
six weeks, the AFP statement declaring the matter would go no further
just happened to be released on the first business day after Greg
Maguire dismissed Windsor’s claims as nonsense based on a
misunderstanding.

“The point here is not to assume any
wrongdoing on anyone’s part; it’s to expect that no stone is left
unturned when one public representative makes a serious allegation
against other public representatives and that there will full
disclosure. That surely should include the DPP’s full assessment of the
AFP interview material.

“Sometimes you just have to
wonder if some of the people in politics understand how important but
also how fragile is public confidence in the political process – and
that includes not just the usual skulduggery relating to preselection
and promotion within parties but to how and to whom tax money is
distributed.

“Sandy Macdonald certainly doesn’t seem to
get it. His comment on Tuesday that Windsor would now not be very
effective in representing his seat – “I don’t think that he’s going to
have very many ministerial doors open to him now”, he told ABC radio –
was one of the more ugly examples of the cynical, self-interested
thinking that unfortunately plagues all the mainstream political
parties.

“It’s worth noting, and probably not entirely
irrelevant, that this whole contretemps seems to have its roots in a
fight for government cash. Windsor and Maguire had been pushing for a
national show venue for horses and livestock to be built in Tamworth, a
project rejected two years ago by Anderson because of doubts about its
viability.

“When Maguire met Anderson and Macdonald in
May, it was to discuss the proposed Australian Equine and Livestock
Centre. On Maguire’s own account, he told Windsor at a subsequent
meeting that Windsor should get out of Parliament because he had ceased
to be an effective representative of the voters of New England.

“Windsor
says Anderson insisted that unless he remove himself from the equine
centre project, it would not get any money. Anderson denies this,
although he has said that he did request that if the centre got
funding, the Government should get “proper credit”. Windsor did remove
himself, and during the election campaign Anderson announced a $6
million payment for the centre, congratulating local Nationals for
their work in supporting the project.

“There has got to be a better way.”

He’s right, you know.