Independent MP Tony Windsor says he is unfazed by fresh moves from Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce to run against him at the next federal election.
The move would be part of Senator Joyce’s long-held ambition to move to the lower house and closer to a senior leadership role in the coalition.
“Good luck to him,” Mr Windsor told AAP on Tuesday.
“(But) I don’t know whether it’s Senator Joyce’s burning desire to help the people of New England or just his burning desire to get into the lower house.”
Mr Windsor, a former National, has long been an independent and holds the central northern NSW seat of New England by 21.5 per cent.
The next election is not due for another two years but the fragile state of the minority Gillard government means a poll could occur at any time.
Senator Joyce will run for preselection in New England but says it’s up to local Nationals members to decide if they want him.
Senator Joyce said he’d made up his mind to move to the lower house and the only remaining question was where he would run.
Mr Joyce was elected to the Senate as a Queensland representative but spent plenty of time in nearby New England as a child.
Nationals leader Warren Truss backed the decision by Senator Joyce to target Mr Windsor’s seat.
“It’s certainly a target seat for us and one which we intend to work very hard to run a credible candidate and have a credible campaign,” Mr Truss told ABC Radio.
“Barnaby would certainly provide an important focus for us in that electorate – it’s one we must win and I’m determined we do well there.”
Barnaby for acting PM?
Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned a successful transfer from the Senate to the lower house could potentially make Senator Joyce acting prime minister in a coalition government, were he to become leader of the party: Joyce has been cited as a potential successor to Mr Truss in the past.
“What I think this means is Tony Abbott should come clean about the nature of the team he will take into the next election,” she told reporters in Canberra.
“Is Tony Abbott going to go to the next election saying to Australians that Barnaby Joyce would be deputy prime minister if Tony Abbott is elected as prime minister, that Barnaby Joyce is the
man who would act as prime minister if Tony Abbott was overseas.”
Mr Windsor has been attacked by the coalition over his decision to back Labor to form minority government after last August’s federal poll.
Australian Greens deputy leader Christine Milne questioned whether Senator Joyce could actually win Nationals preselection to take on Mr Windsor.
“Barnaby thinks he’s on his way to the leadership of the National Party via New England,” Senator Milne told AAP on Tuesday.
“(But) there will be other people in the National Party who may have views on that.”
Senator Milne, who works with Mr Windsor on the climate change committee designing the carbon tax, said the independent MP was doing “an excellent job” in his electorate.
“Barnaby’s dreaming, to quote a colourful line from a famous movie,” parliamentary secretary Mike Kelly told Sky News.
“Colourful politicians belong in the Senate, along with the dancing queen Mary Jo Fisher and loopy Lee Rhiannon.”