Friday, March 16, 2012

Bob's Kattastrophe

Try to remember your response to the announcement that outspoken independent Bob Katter was starting his own political party. I can recall having at least three responses simultaneously: cautious optimism, mocking laughter and a barely suppressed groan. All at once - quite a feat! I'm guessing I wasn't alone. A brand new political party had been announced, and it was being founded and headed by a "colourful" independent from outback Queensland.  

Originally he wanted his new party to be called The Australian Party, but was denied the right to register that name. So he added his own surname, recruited a Queensland independent from state politics, and announced to the waiting world that Australian politics now had a legitimate third banana.

With a bizarre mix of policies ranging from Tea Party-esque right wing religious conservatism through to agrarian socialism, Katter boasted of his plan to run a candidate in each of the 89 electorates in the upcoming Queensland election, and to shake up the latte belt socialists with his down to earth policies and fearless campaigning.

Now, with just a week left to run before the election, Katter’s Queensland campaign isn’t living up to the hype. Rather than being a third force, Katter’s Australian Party is polling in most electorates with the also-rans, the “others”. Perhaps those who laughed and mocked were right.

Remember that while this formidable force in Queensland and Australian politics was forming his new party, he was still a member of the Australian parliament too. That suggests the kind of determined effort that would floor men half his age.

Katter’s first challenge was with candidates. He failed to find suitable candidates to contest all 89 seats in Queensland’s parliament. High profile state independent Rob Messenger considered joining the party, but backed away when the party’s views on Sharia Law different from his own. On the other hand, Shane Knuth, the sitting member for Dalrymple, jumped ship to KAP after becoming disillusioned with the LNP.

Everything seemed to be running fairly well to plan, although quieter than I'd anticipated, until we saw the appalling television advertisement that ran under his party’s name last weekend.

It wasn’t news that Katter disapproved of same sex civil unions. Last year, he dumped a candidate who was in favour of conscience votes for members, on values issues issues like gay marriage. So that would be a 'no' then: everyone in the Katter party is expected to honour the party line, regardless of their personal beliefs. This was not a loose grouping of independents, leveraging each other's reach and buying in bulk. This was a values-based political party.

That’s not that unusual in political parties. Look at poor Campbell Newman: if elected, he’ll be leading the push to rescind the existing civil partnerships laws, despite having close friends who are lesbians and who want to be married, and despite his support of gay marriage, a stance emphasised in Katter’s advertisement. Why? Because that's the policy of the party to which he belongs and which he expects to lead.

Speaking of Newman, the ad was clearly designed to highlight Newman’s personal views and differentiate the KAP as the only truly morally conservative party. It's been almost universally criticised. In fact, it’s awfulness was the only point of agreement between Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman at last night’s Queensland Forum. Despite the condemnation from across the country, he won’t back down.

He also doesn’t admit that the ad that carries his name is homophobic.

Homophobic by intent or not is barely relevant any more. It was perceived as homophobic…in the cities, at least. Out in Katter Kountry, it was probably received with far more equanimity.

Will it win any votes though? In the city, very few; it's more likely to lose votes. In the bush, it may, although as a policy, opposition to gay marriage can’t be taken in isolation as a vote winner, particularly as the LNP shares that policy. It’s not a point of difference, and unless you are directly impacted by gay rights, it's probably of little interest.

Look at Coal Seam Gas mining activities though, and there’s more votes in it. Questions around the issue of Coal Seam Gas Exploration were asked of both leaders last night; both leaders were openly in favour of continued CSG and mining activities, because without the revenue from the industry, Queensland could be in financial difficulty.

One of the KAP’s key policy planks is a one year moratorium on CSR Mining activities to allow time to reassess and study the industry. That will play well with farmers whose properties are in the sites of the mining companies. More importantly, it’s in opposition to the LNP’s support for CSG. That’s the point of difference so many conservatives are looking for. In this instance, Katter has given conservative voters a choice.
 So amongst all the side issues, the mud-slinging, the distractions and the hoopla, and the policy-talk about cost of living and Queensland Health waiting lists and roads and schools, two issues have emerged as the ones we're all talking about: Civil Unions and Coal Seam Gas. Here's how they break down.

Katter’s Australia Party may do better than expected this election. There’s a good chance that the KAP will hold the two seats they already have: Beaudesert and Dalrymple. They have a better than average shot in Nanango, which has been held by conservative independent Dolly Pratt for over a decade. Dolly’s retiring, and the KAP’s candidate in Kingaroy is Carl Rackemann, former Aussie faster bowler. Combine name-recognition with the conservative bias of the seat, and it’s doable. Meanwhile, up in Katter Kountry, Bob’s son Robbie Katter will be running for the seat of Mount Isa. They love Bob up there. It’s another possibility. I’m even willing to concede that they might pick up a couple of random seats that no-one is really talking about.

At best, that would give the KAP 6 seats in the new Parliament. It's unlikely that the KAP will take votes from the ALP, but the conservative votes are in play. Six seats to Katter's mob is six less seats the LNP can win.

What about the rest? My best guess is three independents…so that’s nine candidates from outside the two major parties, leaving just 80 seats for the ALP and LNP to fight over.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned the Greens at all? Know why? Because they’ve been so low profile this election it’s almost like they aren’t here at all.

I think both Bobs (Katter and Brown) will be disappointed with this election campaign.

Question: Earlier this week, while federal parliament was in session in Canberra, Bob Katter wasn’t there. Does anyone know where Bob was, or why he wasn’t in Canberra, representing the people who elected him?

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