Life in politics is punctuated with major challenges that throw into question the authenticity of your political mettle if you avoid them, but if you accept could cost you your political career if you fail.
The unfortunate circumstances that surround Richard Torbay have placed me in a position in which I take the risk against the Greens-Labor-independent alliance member in New England, Tony Windsor.
This is a risk that, if it comes off the rails, will be curtains for me. Windsor has 71 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, has been in politics for more than 20 years in the district, and no one in the history of our nation has ever successfully gone from the Senate in one state to a lower-house seat in another. It will be a risk that many may call excessive, including my children and staff.
At least I don't have to argue over who holds underdog status. This is a risk that should be taken, however, if as a Coalition we truly believe that this Labor-Greens-independent anarchy standing in proxy for a government is beyond just bad, and is dangerous to the future of our nation.
It is beyond bad when our defence spending is as low as it has been as a percentage of gross domestic product since 1938. It is beyond bad when our debt is now bigger than all the deficits in our nation's history, before this government came to power, added one on top of the other. It is beyond bad when we have brought in a broad-based consumption tax on power so that many cannot afford heating this winter while the government palms it off as an environmental ''carbon tax''. It is beyond bad when overnight we go to our largest neighbour, Indonesia, and basically accuse them of barbarism as we shut down the live cattle trade, forcing down the price of one of our largest agricultural exports in the process.
At many times of any life we are challenged to make a statement of commitment to an ethos over security in our current position. While politics is not the hardest venue to deal with this dilemma, the consequences of failure are dire nonetheless.
New England is a good reflection of the nation, with a commercial hub in Tamworth, education in Armidale and an agricultural hinterland providing the economic underpinning of the area. The issues cover law and order in the city to a fair return at the farm gate on the land. The people of this area, like most Australians, also carry a strong sense of national purpose and are concerned about the debt, defence, and ownership of our sovereign asset, our land.
They have me very aware of one issue in this political contest; they do not want a personal catfight. They are over the pointless name-calling of previous national and local campaigns; it leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth, mimics the insults that they encounter on the streets and shows no vision of where the area is going. So, talk to the philosophy of your beliefs, explain the policies that encompass those beliefs, flesh out any inconsistencies in your opponent, but do not impugn your opponent's character.
The greatest issue for my opponent appears to be the obvious. When he supported the Greens and Labor in a new tripartite government with the independents, he inherently stopped being independent. The voters felt as if he had driven them past their political church and was forcing them to worship a different religion. Philosophy runs deeper than one may think but is sometimes only recognised when confronted.
The current polling would suggest that the Coalition is very likely going to win the next election, though certainty and politics are precarious bedfellows. If the Coalition does win, a Greens-Labor-independent member of the opposition will be a lonely old job. Trying to be properly heard for the protection of funding streams and services in New England will require real diplomacy, but Windsor has made certain personal comments, such as those about his negotiations with Tony Abbott, which will not assist in this process.
Anyway, the electorate of New England is alive to all these issues and the media is salivating at the prospect of a class-one political stoush. Democracy is a wonderful right and if nothing else the theatre of the political contest will be memorable.
Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water.