BOB Katter wants to dominate the electoral map, but according to former insiders the maverick federal MP has an abrasive way of carving out his party in his own image.
Former national general secretary Bernard Gaynor reveals that when Katter was dividing his fledgling political party into geographic zones after last year's Queensland election, he simply used a whiteboard marker to draw lines on a laminated map of the state.
The problem, Gaynor says, was that these lines did not match up with electorate boundaries - making it hard to tell some party members what zone they were in.
''I wasn't allowed to change the zones,'' Gaynor says, as an example of how Katter's Australian Party operates as a ''one man band''.
It's an insight into the behind-the-scenes difficulties the party has had as it attempts to prepare for its first federal election outing where it aims to run candidates in every seat.
Damaging internal brawls over gay rights have observers wondering whether the party - part-protectionist, part-populist - is about to make serious inroads or implode ahead of the September 14 poll.
Apart from bruising public disputes over whether the marriage law should be changed and how ''tolerant'' the party should be on social issues, there are questions over whether a party structure is compatible with Katter's style.
Party officials are not always sure what Katter will say when he fronts a media conference. But national director Aidan McLindon brushes off the stories about the party spinning out of control.
McLindon briefly served as a Liberal National Party state MP in Queensland, having outpolled independent challenger Pauline Hanson when she attempted her political revival in 2009. Now influential in Katter's Australian Party, McLindon suggests any publicity is good publicity. ''Yeah, OK, we've had a bit of a domestic that spilled into the public arena; all parties do that … and particularly new ones,'' he says.
While political experts say it is always difficult for new minor parties to get elected, Katter's Australian Party could be competitive in numerous Senate races, particularly in Queensland. Queensland University of Technology professor in political science Clive Bean says that while Katter's profile is strongest in Queensland, he also has appeal around the nation.
Professor Bean, an expert in voting behaviour, says the electoral system makes it ''extremely hard'' for minor parties to gain a foothold in the House of Representatives, but chances are better in the Senate, where quotas allow candidates with lower support to clinch seats.
A lot would depend on preference deals. Labor is rumoured to be considering preferencing Katter's Australian Party over the Liberal National Party in Queensland.
And in recent weeks leaked discussion papers from the Coalition have been big on regional development - with ideas such as building new dams and using incentives to lure people to northern Australia. The make-up of the Senate is important because it will determine whether a Coalition government would be able to pass legislation through both houses.
Regardless of how many seats Katter's Australian Party ends up winning, McLindon says its real power comes through its ability to do preference deals with the major parties and its influence on who wins government.
There's no doubt that Katter's Australian Party - which gathered for a management meeting on Friday - has appeared increasingly erratic in recent weeks. In early January, Katter was talking about fielding candidates in 70 or 80 House of Representatives seats. The next day he vowed to run in all 150 electorates.
McLindon initially dismissed comments by two potential candidates against gay rights as a ''storm in a tea cup''. By the afternoon he declared one had withdrawn her candidacy and the other had been suspended.
Early this month, Katter endorsed theatre director Steven Bailey to run for the Senate in the ACT. McLindon, acting on orders of the party president, Max Menzel, soon asked Bailey to resign because the budding politician had voiced his support for same-sex marriage.
But Katter insisted Bailey should remain as the candidate.
Katter, the long-serving member for Kennedy in North Queensland, has tried to shift the focus away from the gay rights issue, saying candidates should focus on the key issues such as the market share of Woolworths and Coles, foreign ownership and regulating the dairy industry to better support farmers.
''If you're preoccupied by this in our party, we throw you out - we've established that,'' Katter tells Fairfax Media of the gay rights issue.
''We don't think about it. We don't discuss it. You're preoccupied with it. You have a problem with it. We don't. It's not on our agenda.''
Gaynor, a Queensland Senate nominee who was suspended by the party last month after tweeting that he would not let gay teachers educate his children, says Katter doesn't want to alienate potential voters but he is dealing badly with the gay rights issue.
''Bob is great TV when anyone asks him about gay marriage and he doesn't understand that. He thinks, 'If I don't talk about it, people will stop talking about it', but it draws people to ask the question more,'' Gaynor says.
Gaynor is indicative of the conservative base of the party which wants to stand by one of its stated core values that marriage should remain between a man and a woman.
But others want to project a more moderate image.
Peter Pyke, a former Labor MP who was an eager early member of Katter's Australian Party, was among a small group of ''concerned party members'' who called for civil unions to be supported as an alternative to gay marriage.
The group included the party's then president, Rowell Walton, and former Queensland campaign director Luke Shaw, who gained notoriety as the jury foreman in former National Party premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's 1991 perjury trial. The jury failed to reach a verdict. It was later revealed that Shaw was a member of the Young Nationals.
The civil union motions were greeted with scorn by some members and Pyke, who was leading the internal push for reform, says he was forced out. More recently, former state election candidate Darren Hunt quit the party, claiming it had not done enough to shed its homophobic image, and another, Terri Bell, denounced the management team as a ''boys' club''.
Gaynor, who tried to fight his suspension, says Katter should stop getting involved in every decision the party makes if it is to be successful in the long term.
Katter's chief of staff, Elise Nucifora, emailed members on Thursday to allay concerns about the damaging ''internal party matters'' attracting publicity, insisting it was not on the verge of collapse. Katter will speak with all of his party's zone representatives throughout the next few weeks ''to provide inspiration and direction''.
According to McLindon, the party has about 3000 members, with 100 new ones signing up each month, and it has lined up candidates for 17 out of the 30 seats in Queensland.
It has received a total of 140 applications for Senate and lower house candidates across the nation - including ''a lot'' from New South Wales and Victoria.
As Katter's Australian Party tries to extend its electoral foothold beyond Queensland, potential rivals insist they're prepared for a spirited fight. Northern Territory Country Liberal senator Nigel Scullion says he's ready to ''take off the gloves'' if a Katter candidate takes him on.
''I don't think the very small following KAP may have does anything outside of North Queensland. Clearly, that's why we have the K in KAP. It's the bloke in the hat; he's well known; he's like everyone's granddad,'' Scullion says.
Katter says he is confident of gaining multiple Senate seats, including seats outside Queensland, but stresses the need to put internal stumbles behind the party.
''We've got to be careful - we've had a couple of grenades go off in our hands so we've got to be a bit careful with candidates.''
With PADDY DOULMAN