Independents' support for Labor would betray rural folk
Warning PG 17: Parental guidance is recommended for young readers. This column contains strong language and existential violence.
The night I took Bob Katter to dinner at the Royal Hotel in Paddington was, I believe, the first time he had been to the gentrified inner urban bubble that is historic Paddington. He wore his large beige cattleman's hat. He ordered a steak. (I have never witnessed Katter not have steak for dinner.) At the end of the meal, carrying his hat, he disappeared into the kitchen to thank the staff. I would love to have seen their expressions.
It is widely reported that Katter is mad. He is mad, but there is method to his madness, and he is mad only by the sensibilities of inner urban Australia. In his own element, Katter is the Prime Minister of the Gulf country. He is what all politicians would like to be, unassailable and unmistakable.
Illustration: Michael Mucci
Nine days ago he was re-elected to federal Parliament for his seventh term. He won almost twice the vote of his nearest opponent, the Liberal National Party of Queensland candidate. He had more than four times the vote of the Labor candidate. Before entering federal Parliament, he spent 18 years in the Queensland Parliament. He has a smart, elegant wife, Susie, and four daughters, all of whom are university graduates. He has a self-made son who runs his own successful business in Mount Isa. Katter is no hayseed.
It is also widely reported that Katter, along with his fellow regional renegades Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, is an independent. However, as the past week unfolded, and this trio emerged as the people who will decide the ultimate outcome of the federal election, the more they talked about the importance of parliamentary democracy, the more they painted themselves into a moral corner. The more they extolled the virtues of their independence, the less independent they became. This may sound counter-intuitive, but let's compare their rhetoric with their reality. Look at the numbers.
Across regional Australia, a brace of electorates profoundly rejected Labor and the Greens at this election. When you add the combined votes of the ALP and the Greens, the four seats where these parties polled the lowest combined totals were: New England (11.4 per cent), Lyne (17.2 per cent), Kennedy (24.7 per cent) and O'Connor (25.7 per cent).
And who are the four MPS who hold these seats? None other than Tony Windsor (New England), Bob Oakeshott (Lyne), Bob Katter (Kennedy) and Tony Crook (O'Connor), who was elected as a West Australian National but says he considers himself separate from the Liberal-National coalition. I'm not even going to consider that Crook will help deliver power to the Labor machine that has strip-mined his state's resources boom to funnel money into its eastern urban base.
Then there is the Senate vote. It further confirms these four seats as the worst for Labor and the Greens. In Western Australia and Queensland as a whole, Labor's primary Senate vote sank to 29.75 per cent, reflecting the animus in these states towards the proposed extra tax on mining companies.
Now we get to the critical point. The independence of these independents only exists in the context of electorates where Labor is not a viable alternative and the Greens are regarded as dangerous and alien. Their voters were thus able to choose former National Party renegades because they promised to be even more parochial for rural voters than the Nationals themselves.
These men have been given no mandate whatsoever to form a government with the party their electorates so comprehensively dismissed. The only reason the Gillard Labor government is still even a caretaker government is because of its alliance with the Greens. Even with Green preferences, Labor lost a thumping 18 seats, offset by two gains. It was saved from disaster by Green preferences. The only Green elected to the House of Representatives, Adam Bandt, has already said he could not even countenance an alliance with the Coalition. He will only support a Labor government. This merely confirms the de facto alliance between Labor and the Greens.
Labor has topped out at 72 votes. Even with the support of the one Green and the one former Green, it still can't form a government without the representatives from the most implacably anti-Labor and anti-Green electorates in the nation.
This is rich, given that the average Labor vote in the electorates of Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott was a pathetic 13.9 per cent.
The idea that this trio can set aside this resounding anti-Labor sentiment in their electorates and install and sustain a Labor government for the next three years undermines their expressed concern for the democratic process. Their voters expect them to drive a hard bargain for their votes, but not put the Labor machine back into power. If they do, their days of preening political purity will be over.
These men are never going to be easy company for the Coalition, especially the Nationals, but their ultimate mission is to reflect the will of their electorates. So if either Katter, Windsor or Oakeshott throw their fate in with the Labor-Green alliance, they may as well buy themselves some fishnet stockings, follow-me-home stilettos and micro-miniskirts because, for many bushies, they will have become streetwalkers, the prostitutes of Parliament Drive.
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