Federal Politics

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An opportunity, a risk and a secret weapon

ALL Suzie Katter wants for Christmas is for her husband to dress better and talk less. Bob has other things on his Christmas list: winning 12 lower house seats and five Senate spots in the federal election next year.

Mr Katter is convinced he can achieve what Pauline Hanson couldn't - become the new third force in Australian politics.

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"Pauline was a lady who had run a fish and chip shop. She didn't have the skills, the experience or the background you are sitting here talking to," Mr Katter says across the dining table.

The target for Katter's Australian Party next year, he volunteers with characteristic frankness, is 15 per cent of the vote.

Big ask. Do you have the money? Not yet, but Mr Katter has the mining magnate Clive Palmer in his diary for next month. Mr Katter has known Mr Palmer since their adolescence, when Mr Palmer was a surfie on the Gold Coast and Mr Katter was pursuing his young man's dream of becoming a mining oligarch.

Queensland being Queensland, they were in the same clique. History, of course, records that Mr Palmer gave up surfing and took up billionairing. Mr Katter got cleaned up in the 1970s and, after a few career digressions - cattle, insurance - stormed into politics.


Mr Palmer's bitter and public falling out with the Liberal National Party in Queensland is a potential opportunity for Mr Katter and his political insurgency - and also a risk, given that they would be two big bulls in a small paddock.

Mr Katter reckons he needs $4 million. That kind of cash is obviously beyond a grassroots fund-raising operation.

Happily for Mr Katter, his wife is energised. A visit to Charters Towers reveals that she is his secret weapon.

She recently slugged him with a cardboard cylinder when he refused to wear a suit she'd acquired for him. Mr Katter thought it too Queen Street. Mrs Katter begged to differ.

They spar throughout the day of our visit, with deep love and affection. The practice is long standing. Mr Katter once cut down a tree Mrs Katter had planted in the backyard. She retaliated by smashing his favourite Salvador Dali print.

Mrs Katter has loathed the minority parliament in Canberra. "I was really coming to the end of it. I got calls from daylight till dark. Bob has to do this and Bob has to do that. Then when he wanted to start the new party I was up in arms. We'd had enough. We'd done our bit. We were retiring, and we were going to enjoy the grandchildren."

Then she went to a meeting. She read the KAP platform. "It was everything I believed in. I've taken up the fight too."

"She's got the biggest branch," Mr Katter interjects - probably proud, possibly afraid.

Consumers of politics might conclude Mr Katter's populist, protectionist movement is all a bit of a novelty act but Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott and their party organisations have a different view.

The KAP, with dollars and professional organisation, could peel blue-collar votes from Labor and from Mr Abbott, who has spent a term courting blue-collar disaffection. And there are valuable preferences up for grabs. "All I can say is [Gillard and Abbott] are tremendously friendly towards me. Both very friendly," Mr Katter laughs.