IT WASN’T the crowd but Tony Windsor himself who brought the heat to a public meeting hosted by the independent member for New England on Thursday night.
The meeting in Tamworth was held to discuss the outcomes of the hung parliament and the independent brand, as well as let the public ask questions.
Mr Windsor condemned independent state MP and federal Nationals candidate for the seat of New England, Richard Torbay, for his suggestions Mr Windsor had “trashed” the independent brand through his support of Labor.
“We made a decision that, on balance, we believed the Labor party had a better opportunity, in difficult circumstances, of operating a government for the three-year term,” Mr Windsor said of he and Lyne independent Rob Oakeshott’s decision.
But during this time, Mr Windsor said, Mr Torbay promised politicians on both sides of parliament Mr Windsor’s support – without Mr Windsor’s consent.
He also told the meeting Mr Torbay had pledged to support Labor in the 2007 state election if it were a hung parliament, in exchange for the portfolio of regional development.
Mr Windsor said there were questions surrounding Mr Torbay’s integrity and he did not respect him as an individual.
But there was a positive tone to the meeting, with Mr Windsor outlining the benefits he said the hung parliament had brought the electorate and regional Australia.
He said this area had seen $645 million in federal expenditure, including $110 million for the Tamworth hospital redevelopment, $17 million for the Chaffey Dam upgrade, and $10 million for the Coledale community initiative.
Mr Windsor said the introduction of the National Broadband Network (NBN), a deciding factor in who he supported to form government, was a big win for regional areas.
“I believed, and still believe, it’s the one piece of technology that will revolutionise the ability to live anywhere,” he said.
He said the hung parliament had afforded country areas power through its independents, because country MPs in city-based parties tended to be sidelined.
“Political competition drives politics, not political loyalty,” Mr Windsor said.
The Gonski review and its recommendations for education also presented an “incredible opportunity” for parliament this year, he said.
About 110 people attended the meeting and in contrast to his meeting in Armidale last month, the questions from the public did not focus on his support of Labor following the 2010 election.
Instead, questions and comments ranged from what could be done to address youth and crime in the town and the development of clean energy technology, to enforcing Australia’s Antarctic territories and the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal
Some speakers praised Mr Windsor, and brought applause from the audience, including a self-confessed former “rusted-on Nationals voter” who said she appreciated his “statesmanship” and the benefits he had brought to the region.
The young woman also appealed for Mr Windsor to create a Twitter account to connect with his younger constituents, but Mr Windsor expressed reluctance at the suggestion, saying he was “more interested in doing than telling people I’ve done it”.