The people of rural and regional Australia are losing two strong advocates for their cause with the retirement from politics of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.
Thrust into a position of great national responsibility, these regional independents have played key roles in the effectiveness and industry of the 43rd Parliament and, in particular, in delivering some valuable national focus on rural Australia.
Impressively, the two have found time and energy for national issues such as parliamentary process, taxation, fly-in fly-out workers, broadband, education and the Murray Darling Basin, while at the same time advocating effectively for their own electorates.
Windsor and Oakeshott have delivered substantial benefits to the people in very many parts of rural and remote Australia. Some of these been related specifically to health, such as the regional round of the Health and Hospitals Fund valued at $1.8 billion. Other achievements with which they have been associated are concerned with the social determinants of health - building the sustainability and vitality of rural communities through better communications, businesses, infrastructure and natural resource management.
Parliamentarians from all Parties as well as the other cross-benchers have no doubt worked just as hard, and nothing could be achieved in Parliament without the combined effort of many. But Windsor and Oakeshott have consistently provided a collaborative, reasonable and common sense approach, and reflected from lived experience on the real situation facing businesses and families in rural areas.
Particularly in politically turbulent times, Tony Windsor has become many people's preferred commentator on Canberra's political affairs.
Both men have had some unfair criticism from competing forces, but have remained resolute, consultative and dignified. Time will surely honour their achievements and their legacy will soon be properly recognised.
Whoever represents the people of New England and Lyne in the 44th Parliament will have a hard act to follow - not just for the people of those particular electorates but also for the general wellbeing of the people, the communities and the resources of rural Australia.
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660