Politics: Hung Parliament and Bob Katter

Lordy. Apparently the Great Australian Public voted ‘Hell, no’. To everyone. For those overseas, or any Australians living in a small hole in the ground, we have a hung parliament. At present, of a possible 150 seats in the House of Representatives, Labor has 71, Liberal / National has 71, the Greens have 1, 4 seats are held by independents, and 4 are in doubt.

No party has any possibility of getting the 76 seats required to have a majority government. And, in effect, 14 million Australians have decided to have their government decided by four independents (Bob Katter, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie) and a Green (Adam Bandt). Incidentally, this is the first time a Green has got into the Lower House in Australia, and we also look to be having a record number of Greens in the Upper House – Antony Green was saying the Greens would have the balance of power in the Senate regardless of who won. In normal circumstances, this would be something I’d be jumping up and down about gleefully. In normal circumstances, I’d also love to talk about scrutineering last night. But everything is overshadowed by the mess in the House of Representatives.

This is, to put it mildly, not the result I had hoped for. Especially as three of the independents are former National Party members. Some hope for the left can be derived from the fact that they all want better telecommunications, and Labor definitely has the better policy here, and that according to Independent Bob Katter, “Warren Truss was the leader [of the Nationals] and he attacked me personally last night… and (Nationals Senate Leader) Barnaby Joyce in a similar piece of incredible unfortunateness.” Oops. Gillard, on the other hand, went out of her way to congratulate them all early. No flies on her.

So – and you just knew I’d be asking this – who are these four independents? And who, for that matter, is the Green? Let’s start with Bob Katter.

Bob Katter is the member for Kennedy, a rural District in North Queensland. On his front page he tells us:

This website provides a gateway to the expansive and diverse electorate of Kennedy.

I am proud to be the federal representative to what I believe to be the best place on Earth. As the Member for Kennedy I am committed to standing up against industrial relations laws, economic rationalism and the state’s removal of people’s rights.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office for assistance in any matters.

An interesting trifecta, that.

On his vision page, he talks about leaving the National Party when Paul Keating abolished the Wool Marketing Scheme, and wool prices went down by 50%. And, in his view:

The National Party rolled over and accepted the deregulation of the wool industry, the egg, the maize, the dairy, the sugar�

Having supinely succumbed to the dismemberment of their own heartland policies, their only choice was to tell us a la Monty Python “that the parrot was not dead”.

Their craving for acceptability by big business, National media, Canberra’s dominant political entities Liberal and Labor, led them to decide to tell us that free market policies were good for rural Australia.

This was a strategy that assumed the ignorance and gullibility of the average rural voter.

Rural recreation, fishing, hunting, trail riding and camping have all been dramatically curtailed by the environmental push. Property rights were undermined by Mabo and Biodiversity Legislation.

Rural services under privatisation have often vanished. In Queensland’s Mid West, for example, over 400 railway jobs vanished and along with it 20 per cent of the population vanished.

Aargh… I find myself torn between sympathy and frustration here. Clearly, Katter is deeply concerned about and committed to getting services to country and regional Australia, and wants to see our farmers better subsidised. And he’s right – these things are needed, and the government needs to make a push to make services more equitable. But he appears to be anti-Mabo (Aboriginal land rights), anti-environment, and pro-hunting and fishing (though in the context of very rural Queensland, the gun thing apparently bothers me a lot less – I can see actual practical uses for guns in this context).

A bit more searching under ‘Bob Katter’ and ‘indigenous’ found some articles showing that he supports autonomy for Torres Strait Islanders, and apparently word is that he is very popular in the indigenous communities – he’s apparently a lot less rigid in person than he appears on his website or in the press. He is, however, decidedly anti-Green, though Crikey has quoted him saying:

He’ll even work with the Greens, should Melbourne candidate Adam Brandt get up. There’s common ground on food importation and the supermarket giants. Plus, the jobs the investment in renewable energy and biofuel production could bring.

“Even a hardened, anti-green like myself says over the next 50 or hundred years let’s pull on the reigns a bit, fellas,” the self-described “opposite of whatever a greenie is” said. Climate change, for the record, is still “rubbish”.

Hmm.

He has occasionally been on the side of Labor, notably on the subject of bananas (insert obvious banana republic joke here), which Labor did not want imported from overseas and the National Party was willing to allow. Katter is in a big banana-growing area, so this makes perfect sense. He also feels that Labor has done better at delivering infrastructure to rural areas. Leaving the National Party because it isn’t representing the farmer enough, and then managing to get voted in as an independent – and continue to be voted in for nine years so far – suggests that Katter has both the courage of his convictions and a degree of competency that is pleasing. On the other hand, he likes to quote Alan Jones and Bjelke-Petersen, which I can only consider a matter of concern.

He seems to have a fair bit of solidarity with his fellow rurally-based independents (and indeed, has said that he, Windsor and Oakeshott will get together and probably decide as a group on the next government. This seems a bit rough on Wilkie and Bandt, and indeed the rest of us.

On the whole, I’d say he is a good member for his region, and to have a fair bit of integrity. His views on the environment are a cause for serious concern, but otherwise, one could do worse. Whether this makes him a good representative of what all of Australia should have in government is another matter. Though, you know, having the government formed by a special interest group consisting of very rural voters and members is certainly a change from the usual. Maybe it is the change we need?

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