Federal Politics

License article

Big dreams not just the hat talking

Last Wednesday, as the government and the opposition were busy tearing out each other's throats over events 20 years ago, Bob Katter provided the relief.

Smack bang in the middle of question time, Katter tried to suspend proceedings to debate as a matter of urgency his motion to disallow the freshly minted plan for the Murray-Darling Basin.

The basin is thousands of kilometres south of Katter's Queensland electorate of Kennedy, yet the independent MP, who defected from the Nationals a decade ago, has decided to champion the cause of the irrigators who harbour concerns about water cutbacks.

The opposition supports the basin plan but two of its members are allowed to dissent as an act of solidarity with their electorates. One is the Nationals MP Michael McCormack, from the NSW seat of Riverina.

The dissent, to be expressed through a disallowance motion, would be symbolic only because the motion would not have the numbers.

Katter and McCormack spoke about one moving a disallowance motion and the other backing it. Katter thought McCormack might back his motion but on Tuesday night, McCormack gave notice he would move his own later down the track.


So, on Wednesday, Katter moved first and made the bold claim that he was the only MP fighting water cutbacks.

''Eighty-five shops have closed in Mildura. They tell me even more have closed in Griffith,'' he said of towns far, far away from Queensland.

He put McCormack on the spot by daring him to support his motion.

''A member of Parliament in this place - I do not know whether he is fair dinkum or not, that is up to him - said he is going to cross the floor.''

McCormack was furious, more so because he was already upset at the death of a friend.

In full view, he turned around and remonstrated furiously with Katter for questioning his integrity.

Katter, who has established his own party, Katter's Australian Party, was unperturbed.

He has big plans to make an impact at the federal election next year. He intends to run candidates in 80 of the 150 federal seats and, while his expectations are realistic, he is not ruling out winning at least one Senate seat.

Katter's old-school philosophy of protectionism and big government appeals to both Labor's industrial left and the rural protectionists in the Coalition, especially the Nationals.

Katter believes if the KAP can win at least one Senate spot, he can form a like-minded protectionist balance-of-power bloc with the Democratic Labor Party senator, John Madigan, South Australia's Nick Xenophon, and even the Greens.

Queensland is the epicentre of Katter's expansion plans and it is fertile ground. At the March 24 state election, the KAP won two of the 89 seats and it took more votes from the ALP than from Campbell Newman's Liberal National Party.

Labor was reduced to seven seats and Newman won a staggering 78. There were two independents.

But Newman's teething troubles continue. He lost three MPs last week through defections.

Publicly, Tony Abbott and others have played down the problems with the entirely plausible explanation that after such a big win it is impossible to keep everyone happy and a few will desert if they feel their genius has not been recognised.

Others believe it may be more serious than that.

One Queensland political veteran said there was always a risk that the LNP merger would vacate the field for a third party to arise in Queensland.

''They are totally different parties and they are trying to mix them,'' he said of the Queensland Liberals and Nationals. ''It's difficult.''

His hunch is that Katter's party will fizzle because Katter cannot articulate ideas and turn them into policy. But neither he nor anyone else is prepared to underestimate Katter, who is as shrewd as he is eccentric.

Of the three defectors from Newman's government last week, one - Ray Hopper - joined the KAP, giving it three MPs. The other two are sitting as independents, and speculation abounds that more may jump.

Last week, Katter noted that if he could secure five defectors, the KAP would have eight MPs, which is one more than Labor, entitling the KAP to lay claim to being the opposition.

Clearly, it was not a fanciful notion.

In an extraordinary move, Newman, with Labor's support, rammed a bill through Queensland's one-house Parliament on Friday stripping the KAP of party status.

With three MPs, it was entitled to party status and $40,000 a year of extra funding that would have come out of the funding Labor received as the hitherto sole opposition party.

The legislation stipulated a party could not achieve party status by building its numbers with defectors. All members had to be elected under the party banner.

It was an extraordinarily undemocratic piece of law and Katter was rightly aggrieved. So too was he entitled to declare it a sign the major parties were worried about him expanding his influence.

There are federal implications in Queensland, a state in which not that long ago Labor was tipped to be totally wiped out. The mess plaguing Newman's government has given Labor hope it could actually pick up four Coalition seats in south-east Queensland.

And Katter is so angry at last week's legislation, it is likely he will preference Labor in Queensland, giving it a shot at taking back seats such as Dawson.

To further complicate the picture, the billionaire Clive Palmer, who has quit the LNP, is threatening to start his own party.

Palmer was out on Sunday, expressing outrage on Katter's behalf about last week's legislation.

So far, he and Katter have not had formal talks.

''Clive does his own thing,'' said Katter. ''He'll come to us if he's good and ready.''

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