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A Voice In The Wilderness - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 26 August , 2013

CAROLINE JONES, PRESENTER: Hello I'm Caroline Jones. Tonight, a unique insider’s account of the political tumult of the last three years. Independent MP Tony Windsor is walking away from politics after more than 20 years. He famously helped keep Julia Gillard in power and in the process was accused of betraying his own conservative electorate. He and his family have weathered abuse and death threats. Tony Windsor’s been reflecting back on what he calls the ‘greasy pond’ of Canberra politics from the vast expanse of the Simpson Desert. This is his story.

TONY WINDSOR: From out here, the Canberra political scene is a long way away. On all of the desert trips I've done over the years I turn the radio off, somewhere around Broken Hill and don’t turn it back on until we re-enter the state of New South Wales. Out here you can just focus on the here and now and what you’re looking at. We’re on the bottom side of big red, the first major sand hill of the Simpson Desert and we’re taking a group of staff and friends across the desert.

(Talking into radio)
TONY WINDSOR: I think we'll just go down here a bit and then set up camp, so I'll be back there in a minute.

(Everyone around the campfire laughing)

TONY WINDSOR: I think this is a good transition for me as well, adjusting from, you know, what’s been a fairly hectic time to a hopefully more relaxed time and focusing on other things that I'd like to do in my life.

TONY WINDSOR: (talking to friends) I wonder how deep that is, Joey might swim out there...

(Near Birdsville, Queensland)

TONY WINDSOR: You know, being in a landscape like this actually puts a lot of the smallness of politics into perspective. There are big issues but there’s a lot of argument about nothing. On the personality side i think it’s been the worst parliament that I've ever seen, particularly in relation to a female prime minister.

(Montage of Gillard and other politicians)


JULIE GILLARD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: If he wants to have a debate about political honesty, well bring it on.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS, COALITION MINISTER: If the prime minister and her outraged female cabinets Ministers can’t take it, well they can just get out of the kitchen.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: Another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame.

JULIA GILLARD: The government is not dying of shame. My father did not die of shame.

(End of montage)

TONY WINDSOR: I have never seen, male, female or dog treated in the fashion that she was treated. I think it was disgraceful.

(Montage of personalities)

ALAN JONES, RADIO PRESENTER: Put them in a chaff bag as Julia Gillard and throw them both out to sea.

PAULINE HANSON, FORMER LEADER OF ONE NATION: She has never reared a family, she’s never had to go and shop for a family.

GRAHAME MORRIS, COALITION STRATEGIST: All of these blinking, bleeding heart Labor lawyers from here on end, screaming bloody hypocrites they are, they ought to be out there kicking her to death.

GERMAINE GREER, ACADEMIC & JOURNALIST: You’ve got a big arse, Julia, just get over it.

(End of montage)

TONY WINDSOR: And a lot of it has been quite strategic. Hasn’t been accidental or a temper tantrum, it has been a strategic process of trying to destroy - to a certain extent you feel as though you’re mixing in a greasy pond, but that’s politics.

WAYNE SWAN, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think the thing about Tony Windsor is what you see, is what you get. No double agendas, a man of his word, good, good common sense approach.

BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONAL PARTY CANDIDATE: It would be stupid to say that Mr Windsor didn’t deliver for his electorate. I think he did.

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER'S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: He was everything that a good member of Parliament could be, and he should be a model for every member of parliament.

(June 26)

(Tony Windsor’s resignation speech)
TONY WINDSOR: Firstly thanks very much for taking the time to come along this morning. There’s a number of things that I want to say and one is a very personal matter, and to do that I’d like my wife and daughter to come forward if they would. The announcement I’d like to make this morning is, and I won’t take 17 minutes, is essentially that I won’t be contesting the next election.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: He was very emotional that day which surprised me and I think it surprised him too, because he’s probably not prone to becoming this emotional.

(Tony Windsor’s resignation speech)
TONY WINDSOR: (crying) To my children, um gees, I didn’t think I'd get into this bullshit (inaudible).

KATE WINDSOR, DAUGHTER: I had said about 18 months ago that I didn’t really want him to run again. I thought it was you know, time, that he’d done an extraordinary amount. It was time that he and mum had some time to enjoy life together because you never know when your time’s up.

(Tony Windsor’s resignation speech)
TONY WINDSOR: I do have a health issue that’s currently being investigated.

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: It was a quite extraordinary decision. And the polling indicated clearly that he was going to win by a fairly comfortable majority. I mean I was quite staggered and I know a lot of people close to him were also quite staggered by it.

(Tony Windsor’s resignation speech)
TONY WINDSOR: I would thank my mother. She’s been an extraordinary influence on me over many years and still is. Thank you.

TONY WINDSOR: I was born in Quirindi which is only about 20 kilometres from where I live now. My father had been a veteran of the Second World War and he was lucky enough to draw a soldier settlement block. A few years later in 1959 when I was eight my father was injured in a tractor accident, he died of those injuries some days later. So after that my mother, she did an extraordinary amount of work to actually keep it all together and I think that upbringing has had a certain degree of influence on the way I've addressed politics. You don’t have to pre-judge people as to whether they believe in the right or left or middle philosophies. You’re there to serve them and I think my mother set a pretty good grounding in relation to that. I didn’t see people as black, white or brindle and i still don’t.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: I first met Tony in kindergarten at the age of five. And we were in primary school all the way through together and then started going together at the end of year 12.

(Walking on the farm with eldest son)
TONY WINDSOR: Has Proppy looked at this?

SON: Yeah, I think it's just moisture stress, drops on its leaves.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: Farming was his first career. He just absolutely loved farming with a passion.

TONY WINDSOR: I became a little bit involved in local farm politics and a sort of father figure to me, a fellow called Fred Pursehouse, he said to me one day; he said ‘Windsor, you should get a bit more involved in politics'. You’re interested in it. Why don’t you join the National Party?’ I stood for pre-selection in 1991, was unsuccessful, even though I'd won seven of the nine branches, including the two biggest ones. It became very, very nasty. There was an incident where I was picked up coming home from Friday night at the pub in Quirindi for being over the limit. The Nationals have recreated the timeline is terms of the history to say that it was publicly known and that was the reason they dumped me, but it wasn’t publicly known.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: I can remember our phone didn’t stop after that, people saying ‘you’ve got to run as an independent. You can’t, you can’t accept this’. So he did and won that very first one which was just amazing and the rest is history.

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: That was the start of a career where he continually beat his polling figures from the previous election.

ABC NEWS, 1991, ARCHIVE FOOTAGE: The premier has struck a deal with Tamworth Independent Tony Windsor that will allow the Coalition to form a minority government.

TONY WINDSOR: In 1991 I became the independent state member for Tamworth in the New South Wales parliament. Some people have forgotton that I was in a hung parliament that elected a Liberal government.

TONY WINDSOR (archive): The letter I'll be signing will give the premier the right to form a government.

NICK GREINER, NSW PREMIER, 1988-92: Windsor was quite fundamental in ensuring the Coalition I led continued to govern. I think he had a lot of common sense, I think he was a good communicator, he communicated in a way that didn’t sound all that political, and that is clearly a strength.

TONY WINDSOR: I was never involved in politics at university, so I didn’t have that sort of background in politics; I'm quite a shy person. I was petrified of speaking in public, absolutely petrified.

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: He’s not a good talker, he’s not a good communicator as such but what he talks about is not platitudes, it’s not rhetoric, it really is just words that actually mean something to someone and I think that’s where he has won so much support from this electorate.

TONY WINDSOR: It was a training ground in many ways, I think being an independent, it allowed me to go down a road that was not often travelled but one that I'm very pleased to have done.

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: A number of them envied him because he was able to vote his conscience and vote in the interests of his electorate.

TONY WINDSOR: Once I'd smelt that breeze I didn’t want to go back to one of these other places. I think they were fairly dark and dingy holes that I was very lucky to have escaped. I decided to switch to federal politics in 2001.


ANTONY GREEN (archive): Tony Windsor's won this seat, we've got 40 percent of the vote, he's got 46 per cent of the primary vote. There we are.

NICK GREINER, NSW PREMIER, 1988-92: I suspect it was simply novelty, a broader canvas, an attempt to show that his skills, which I think are apparent, were transferable to a larger stage.

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: This is a traditionally blue ribbon national party seat. Tony Windsor came along in 2001 and that was the end of the Nationals. Windsor’s margin now is the tenth biggest in the country.

BEN CHESHIRE, AUSTRALIAN STORY PRODUCER: Did your mum vote for Tony Windsor?

BARNDABY JOYCE: Ah I think at a stage yes she did. I mean but this is, that would not be surprising. Mr Windsor had 71 per cent of the two party preferred vote.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: The first three Federal Elections were very uncontroversial. Each term was quite normal I'd suppose you’d say. The last three years was completely different to that. It was very controversial the whole way through.

(ABC News -August 2010, archive)
CHRIS UHLMANN, ABC REPORTER: Tonight, hung drawn and quartered, the voters couldn’t pick a winner, now the Independents may have to. Yesterday’s election has left a hung parliament for the first time since 1940.

TONY WINDSOR: In 2010 I found myself very much in the spotlight.

NICK GREINER, NSW PREMIER, 1988-92: I mean it is an amazing accident of history that Tony ended up twice in effectively, almost single-handedly having the balance of power in the two most important parliaments in Australia.

SIMON CREAN, FORMER LABOR MINISTER: Tony Windsor's was one of the key swing votes so his decision, along with Rob Oakeshott, determined who the government was.

TONY WINDSOR: And we kept saying, I remember myself saying it quite often, that this is about stability.

(4 Corners, ABC TV -2010, Tony Abbott visits Tony Windsor in his office)
TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: Ok how are you mate, good to see you.
TONY WINDSOR: Alright, how you going.
TONY WINDSOR: Have you got something for me?
TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: I've got something for you.
TONY WINDSOR: Yeah yeah.
(End of footage)

TONY WINDSOR: Tony Abbott wouldn’t have been able to handle a hung parliament. Hasn’t got the character to do that or the personality. If he can’t be leader on the field, he doesn’t want to get on the paddock.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: I love the bush and every time I go to the country air I think isn't this fantastic.

TONY WINDSOR: He assumed for the first week these guys can’t go anywhere else. They come from conservative seats don’t they? I think on the other side - Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan - I don’t think they assumed that we were going to support them, and I think it came as a bit of a shock when we actually did.

WAYNE SWAN, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER : I think at the beginning there wasn’t a long-established relationship with Tony on behalf of the prime minister or myself but as we continued to talk, I think what really grew strongly was a deep respect.

TONY WINDSOR: It became very clear that Julia Gillard was much better placed, not just because of her negotiating skills. I think she was more, a more stable personality than Tony Abbott. I don’t regret siding with Julia Gillard. She was streets in front.

(September 2010)
TONY WINDSOR (archive): I intend with my vote, for what it's worth, to support the Labor government.

(Sound of archive ABC news announcement, “Tonight, we have a government. Julia Gillard is the chosen one.”)

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: And that provoked an ungodly war of words in this place. It has been horrific, the last three years. The vehemence of people who believe that Tony Windsor had betrayed his conservative roots and his National Party friends or colleagues was just unbelievable.

ARCHIVE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: Kingmakers face fury from their conservative supporters. Down on main street, Windsor's locals not happy.

BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONAL PARTY CANDIDATE: Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, we’re disgusted in you.

NICK GREINER, NSW PREMIER, 1988-92: I have to say I share the general view certainly in the centre right that what he and Oakeshott did was totally, completely, 100 per cent indefensible. I do not think that a community politician can effectively and arrogantly put himself above the wishes of their electorate on the most fundamental question, as in which side should govern.

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: Major segments of the Australian press dealt with he and the member for Lyon on a scale of brutality I think that I've seldom seen.

BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONAL PARTY CANDIDATE: The mail I was getting, being phone calls, being emails, being you know, discussions with people on the street was one of almost palpable anger.

WAYNE SWAN, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER : Tony and rob were simply vilified, not just by the conservative National Party establishment who’d been doing it to them for years, but then by the vested interests out there from many of the very powerful lobbies in Australian politics. And they took to them with a meat cleaver.

ARCHIVE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: Business targets kingmaker MPs.

TONY WINDSOR: We’re virtually gone and told them to go and get stuffed, and got on with the arrangements that were put in place at the start. There was some vitriolic backlash there’s no doubt about that. Most of them outside the electorate. I’ve had 14 people in the electorate of New England, who live there physically, actually have a go at me about the decision.

BEN CHESHIRE, AUSTRALIAN STORY PRODUCER: Are you saying there were only 14 complaints that came to you directly?

TONY WINDSOR: Out of the electorate, yeah.

BEN CHESHIRE, AUSTRALIAN STORY PRODUCER: Do you mean face to face or letters?

TONY WINDSOR: No, face to face, yeah.

BEN CHESHIRE, AUSTRALIAN STORY PRODUCER: You must have had letters, emails?

TONY WINDSOR: Oh not many more than that either.

ARCHIVE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: @TonyWindsorMP - shut up! You shut up now! Hypocritical save your own arse scum. Windsor is a grub and liar.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: Some of the stuff that you see on websites sites, with blogs and things, I mean it’s ferocious in its hatred and ugly.

PHONE MESSAGES: You're a f****** dog Windsor, I hope you die you bastard.

TONY WINDSOR: I was getting a number of threats over a period of time, but I really hadn’t realised the impact that was having on other members of my family.

ARCHIVE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: Windsor death threats probed. Dial up death threats.

(60 Minutes archive footage)

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: It was awful, (begins to cry) I'm going to get emotional now.

TONY WINDSOR: It wasn't till I was sitting next to her, with an interview that Karl Stefanovic did in January of this year that I really felt, I could hear it in her voice, that it had hurt her.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: But there's no need to get vicious and vindictive and threaten to kill people because...

TONY WINDSOR: Quite often she was here on her own and I started to get a bit nervous about that.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: It’s very frightening, become suddenly aware that you’re a target or you could be a target for somebody.

KATE WINDSOR, DAUGHTER: When people started threatening nanna who’s 95 in a nursing home, you just think you know there really are some scummy people out there.

(Werris Creek, NSW)

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: Tony’s family farm became another point at issue, another huge debate within the electorate. Because there was some suggestion that he was doing one thing and saying another. In effect he sold it to a mining company. He was feeling the backlash from people who thought that he had betrayed them by doing that.

ARCHIVE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: Windsor has no problem with coalmine.

BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONAL PARTY CANDIDATE: I was trying to work out how you can be the champion of an issue when you’ve had to, when you’ve sort of been on both sides of the issue.

TONY WINDSOR: In our particular case there was a coal mine next door to us for years, they required an extension which would impact on part of our land where we live. It’s probably exactly the land that should be mined. And there’s a lot of land that can be mined. I’m not anti-mining, never have been, and there’s some political confusion there. And since then we’ve purchased some additional land, particularly the Coonamble area.

ARCHIVE NEWSPAPER HEADLINES: Windsor buys up farms with prospects.

TONY WINDSOR: The accusation that’s been made towards me is that we’ve gone out there to make money out of coal seam gas, not out of farming. Just absolute nonsense. It’s magnificent farming country out there and we’re there for the farming.

(Lateline, ABC TV - July 2011)
ARCHIVE ABC NEWS: The waiting game's over for Tony Windsor, who's indicated at last he'll likely support the carbon tax.
TONY WINDSOR: Something that I think I'll be able to look back on and be very proud of.
(End of archive footage)

TONY WINDSOR: Some people have accused me of being too close to Julia Gillard. When parliament was sitting, we’d have a meeting I think, every Wednesday afternoon with the prime minister.

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: All I know is the person who I've been very close friends with and worked extremely closely with for all my career, was suddenly on an entirely different pathway.

(Lateline, ABC TV - July 2011)

ARCHIVE ABC NEWS: My discussions with the Prime Minister and the Minister have been...
(end of footage)

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: After that election, I mean I've hardly had a civil sentence off Tony. It seemed to me Tony had you know, locked in very closely with the ALP. And the parliament was dreadfully bereft of probably its most powerful democratic force. We’d lost him, you know, he was a great fighter for us, we’d lost him, and I hope I was never hostile towards him but, I most certainly was grieved by his conduct.

(June 26, day of Labor leadership challenge)
TONY WINDSOR (valedictory speech): I rise to make my final contribution to this parliament.
(End of speech)

TONY WINDSOR: Extraordinary day, the day I gave my valedictory speech. That was the day that all the machinations in terms of the Labor leadership were happening. And I was quite surprised when the then prime minister came and sat to listen.

TONY WINDSOR (valedictory speech): And I congratulate you for the way you've been able to withstand the vagaries of a hung Parliament.
(End of speech)

TONY WINDSOR: And obviously there would have been things that she could have been doing in terms of the numbers.

TONY WINDSOR (valedictory speech): May god bless you all.
(End of speech)

WAYNE SWAN, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER : I’ve got no doubt that if Tony Windsor had been serving in an established political party, he would have went to the top of its senior ranks.

SIMON CREAN, FORMER LABOR MINISTER: Tony Windsor could have been prime minister. He had the quality, the experience to be that, but so long as he was an Independent he was never going to be a prime minister.

(Tamworth, NSW, two weeks ago, a cake being cut in Tony's office)
WOMAN: Spoons too, but no one's been washing them.
TONY WINDSOR: It's not about you.
WOMAN: What?

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: When he announced that he wasn’t going to stand, there was a feeling amongst some people that, oh bugger, you know we really wanted to see him stand so that he could be beaten. They were disappointed that they couldn’t see that. To see this man who’d been around for 20 years get what he deserved.

(Windsor and wife at home, walking dogs around dam)

KATE WINDSOR, DAUGHTER: When his health started to deteriorate and he’d be unwell, I thought he needed to really get that looked at. Being a nurse I’ve been really pushing him with his health, cause dad’s always been well up until the last few months.

TONY WINDSOR: There was some concern from medical practitioners that I was having some degree of difficulty with oxygen to the head, because I'd suddenly go dizzy. But I've been to a heart specialist, I've been to the neurologist, it doesn’t sound as serious as what we originally thought it may have been.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: I think that’s put his mind at rest, and maybe it was stress you know, had something to do with it.

(Camp site in the Simpson Desert)

TONY WINDSOR: I think if you sit in an aged landscape such as this one, you can actually put those things back into their correct perspective. The arguments of the day, the headlines of yesterday, what happened last week, really aren’t that important. I love politics. Well my guess is that Tony Abbott will probably be the prime minister after the next election. I quite like Tony but I don’t think he’s the man for the moment. The public is still viewing him with some degree of scepticism.

(Campers eating breakfast)

TONY WINDSOR: If a Malcolm Turnbull was there, I think that it’d be all over in terms of the contest, win it by a country mile. I think Malcolm Turnbull is a far better operator in terms of where the middle Australia is. If Malcolm had been the leader of the opposition in a hung parliament and if he’d been the leader of the Opposition at the start of this, he may well have been the prime minister through it. It’s too late to bring Malcolm back, that’s my view, and I think a lot of the right wing in the liberal party would cut their arms and legs off before they’d have him back in. Well I wasn’t privy to what was going on within the Labor Party on the demise of Kevin Rudd, but given the little bit that I did know at the time and the lot more than know now, I can understand why they did it. Leadership is one thing, dictatorship is another.

BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONAL PARTY CANDIDATE: I’m campaigning as hard as I possibly can. I’m going to try and make sure that you know, I walk humbly with the people of New England.

ANN NEWLING, ACTING EDITOR, NORTHERN DAILY LEADER: There’s no doubt about the result now. Barnaby Joyce will win. The question will be by how much. Windsor is on nearly 72 per cent. Whether Barnaby Joyce can increase that is a bit of an unknown.

BOB KATTER, FORMER INDEPENDENT MP, NOW KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: Handing it over to the National Party, deeply, deeply disappointed. In the end to have ended up handing it over to his most trenchant sworn enemies that had treated him with merciless brutality.

TONY WINDSOR: Barnaby Joyce may well be the eventual winner. That’s fair enough, if people want Barnaby Joyce that’s their decision.

(Windsor and son on farm)
TONY WINDSOR: If you look across it mate, it still got good colour in it.

TONY WINDSOR: I really love agriculture. And seeing my eldest son doing what he’s doing, I want to get a bit involved in that, I don’t want to be in the management of it, I would just want to be a backbencher on the farm. So in a sense I'll be going from you know, a job of filth to a job of dirt and (laughs) and I'll enjoy the transition to the dirt from the filth.

KATE WINDSOR, DAUGHTER: I think he’ll find it hard to switch off from politics, I think it’s in his blood. He’ll still continue to help people and be involved in politics in a way I think. Just not in the fast paced life that he’s led over the last 22 years.

TONY WINDSOR: (leaving his office for the final time) Oh well, goodbye office. I've had some fun.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: I think he’ll be able to keep his mouth shut. I’ve noticed him even tuning out a little bit now. Once there was news from six o’clock to eight o’clock here.

TONY WINDSOR: (leaving his office for the final time) Cheers, I love youse all.

LYN WINDSOR, WIFE: But now, now that i think he has made that break, he'll be able to walk away from it.

(Simpson Desert)

TONY WINDSOR: So I've been extraordinarily lucky to actually enjoy going to work and I will miss not going to that sort of work each day, there’s no doubt about that. But there are other things that I want to do in my life. And if you’ve lived a lifestyle like I have, you’re probably not going to live for a terribly long time. This is the seventh time I've been though the Simpson and I never get sick of it, never get sick of it. The drive’s interesting, the landscape’s fascinating, it’s always changing. Every dune you go over, there’s a different vista. And the company and the few beers at night, the moon and the stars are, you now, that’s what really life’s all about.

Australian story contacted the offices of both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd but neither offered any comment on Mr Windsor.

Nine candidates will contest the seat of New England.