Bob Katter is often derided as being a mad raving right-winger; despite this there is no other politician in Australia so capable of having a conservative base and speaking to the political left.
Political analyst Paul Williams stated earlier this year his doubt that Katter’s Australian Party ‘KAP’ would have any serious impact on Queensland politics. [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/06/06/3236154.htm?site=Brisbane]
Such a statement needs reassessment in light of the many steps the party has taken in just a matter of months since its formation.
Without having contested any elections, Katter’s Australian Party already has 5 elected representatives.
First and foremost is the outspoken leader Bob Katter; Katter was first elected as member for Flinders in the Queensland state parliament from 1974 to 1992.
Since 1993 Katter has been the member for Kennedy in the federal Parliament.
Second is the high profile Queensland MP Aidan McLindon, originally elected as Liberal National Party ‘LNP’ member for Beaudesert in 1999.
McLindon resigned the LNP in 2010 to form the Queensland party; In 2011 McLindon attempted to merge his Queensland Party with Katter’s Australian Party.
McLindon believed the two parties shared a common vision and platform and saw a merger was the best way to ensure a strong challenger to the major parties at the 2012 Queensland state election.
The merger was rejected due to insufficient numbers of support among the Queensland party membership and McLindon defected to the represent Katter’s Australian Party in August 2011
The most recent defector is the Member for Dalrymple, Shane Knuth. Knuth has been in the state parliament since 2004 and is considered likely to hold the seat for KAP at the next state election.
Knuth stated his decision in leaving the LNP was influenced by many factors including the dirt files controversy of the LNP paying an ex-Labor party official for information to discredit Labor MP’s.
Knuth cited other factors in his defection to Katter’s party included his view that the Liberal takeover of the Nationals had been disastrous for regional representation and that there was no longer much difference between the Labor and Liberal parties
Other support exist at the local government level, those now standing under the Katter’s Australian Party banner include Robbie Katter, a councillor on Mt Isa Council and son of Bob Katter. Also Councillor David Neuendorf of Lockyer Valley Regional Council and former Noosa Shire councillor Bob Jarvis.
Having federal, state and local government representatives is an advantageous position for the new party to sell itself in a broad political context in the lead up to the 2012 state election.
A poll released in August this year by ReachTEL surveyed 1007 Queenslanders; the results showed that Labor would receive 24.8% of the vote, the LNP 48% while Katter’s Australian Party would receive 9.7% outpolling the Greens 8.5%.
A Poll conducted specifically for the Courier-Mail and published on the 6th of September 2011, asked 800 Queenslanders their voting intentions at the next state election. The results showed that as many as 23% of voters were willing to give support to Katter’s Australian Party. [http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/bob-katters-australia-party-poised-to-receive-major-support-at-next-queensland-election/story-e6freon6-1226129974891]
The Brisbane times also published information from Labor polling in November this year, the results showed consistent support for the new political party. Polling was conducted in the Queensland seat of Mulgrave and placed Katter’s Australian Party at 22%, the Labor incumbent Curtis Pitt at 32% while the LNP sat at 36%. [http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/katter-party-could-cause-trouble-bligh-20111116-1ni2i.html#ixzz1f6YAttB6]
If such a result did occur the party would be in a similar position to One Nation in the 90’s and become the third force in Queensland politics with the potential to influence the federal sphere through the electing members to both houses of parliament.
It should be noted that with a federal representative, two members in the state parliament and a number of local government representatives, Katter’s Australia party has already taken the place of fourth largest political party in Australia, all this without contesting any elections.
The only other political formation on a similar footing is the ‘No Pokies’ idependant grouping headed by Nick Xenophon in the Senate with two members elected to the South Australian upper house.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has echoed many of the claims of the LNP defectors when she stated ‘Katter’s new political party is a sign residents in the bush feel they have lost their voice with the formation of the LNP.’[http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/06/06/3236154.htm?site=Brisbane]
Bligh will be hoping that Katter will split the conservative vote but she should be careful of Katter’s ability to speak the concerns of traditional Labor voters.
Katter has already struck a chord with traditional Labor voters with his attacks over the privatisations Premier Bligh has presided over.
An article ‘Unlikely allies join Katter camp’ in the Australian on the 19th of October 2011, stated that Victoria Electrical Trades Union secretary, Dean Mighell, had contributed $50,000 to Katter’s Australian Party.
Mighell stated ‘I have known Bob Katter for a while and in many ways he is a better friend to the union movement than Labor.’ and ‘Bob is opposed to privatisation and free-trade agreements and has been fighting for Australian jobs, he is an important political voice for the Australian workers.’ [http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/unlikely-allies-join-katter-camp/story-e6frgczx-1226170105337]
Although a social conservative, Katter’s father was initially a member of the Australian Labor Party but after the labor splits leading to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, Katter’s father joined the Country Party.
From reading the policies on the website for Katter’s Australian Party it becomes clear that traditional Labor values were instilled in Katter.
The party’s values state that it is the Governments role to provide essential services i.e. airports, water, electricity, gas, health services, road networks, public transport and communications and makes sure these are affordable for all.
The party promises to end privatisation and even reverse previous asset sales where possible. On workers’ rights the party states their belief in collective bargaining and Katter has personally stated his support for unionism, the right to strike and the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
The party website also discusses the need for full employment, equitable distribution of income, raising living standards, prosperity, opportunity and equality for all Australians.
Liberal, Labor and the Greens should be cautiously eyeing the results of the 2012 Queensland election.
It is possible that Katter’s Australia party could also throw a challenge to the Greens as the third force in the north of Australia. Polling in Queensland has shown the Greens trailing Katter’s Party.
The Greens should also be concerned that their one time member, Dean Mighell has turned his back on them and is supporting Katter. The support Mighell offered the Greens through the backing of the ETU was crucial to winning the seat of Melbourne at the last federal election.
For many voters fed up with the Major parties, The Greens look like a compromised force which is no longer able to fiercely criticise the Governments they support.
The potential for Katter’s Australia party to attract voters from across the political spectrum and take up the mantle of defending the Aussie battlers against the Labor and Liberal duopoly should not be underestimated.