Tony Windsor’s decision to contest the seat of New England against Barnaby Joyce at the coming election — finally announced this morning after a long, almost Oakeshottian period of speculation — is a welcome one.

It’s a good thing for the voters of New England, who will now find their local member far more attentive to their needs than he would otherwise have been. It’s also good news from a policy perspective — Windsor based his election pitch on issues that are not only important for New England and other regional electorates but for the whole country: education funding, an effective NBN, balancing agriculture and fossil fuel exploitation. All are issues where the government has backed away from good policy and where Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals have proven ineffective at representing regional and rural communities.

Over a long period, Tony Windsor has shown he is an independent, thoughtful, open-minded and good-humoured politician. His own voters recognised that when, despite being an independent, he built up his primary vote to well over 60% between 2001 and 2010. Even if Windsor is unsuccessful against Joyce in New England — the benefits of incumbency may prove too large to overcome — his return to political debate is welcome. It is likely to mean issues of concern to regional communities will be given a significantly greater focus in an election that looks likely to be dominated by major party scare campaigns on tax.

Peter Fray

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