There Are Some Upsides To A Minority Government. Bob Katter Isn’t One Of Them


If you thought parliament was toxic and unstable before Malcolm Turnbull exited, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Chris Graham looks at a house divided, and one of the men who now holds considerable sway over it.

Counting in the Wentworth by-election hadn’t even finished when, at 8:44pm last night, Bob Katter, the Queensland independent who now holds the balance of power in our federal parliament, began issuing threats.

Unless the Australian Government moves to ‘drought proof’ the country – with the re-diversion of rivers in Northern Queensland to Central Australia – then it will “face the consequences”. And unless the banks are prevented from borrowing money, and all of it goes to the government so they can reduce the liability of farmers, then they “do so at their own peril”.

Yes folks, the Australian Government is now partially at the mercy of a man who claims to be Aboriginal (with no Aboriginal heritage); who once swore there were almost no homosexuals living in North Queensland; who believes that it’s “racist” to refer to his heritage as Lebanese (it’s Lebanese); who thinks that man-made climate change is probably a hoax; who supported Fraser Anning’s ‘white Australia’ speech; and who voted against marriage equality.

And that’s just the basics. Katter unplugged is much more scary, as the media release he issued last night will show.

Before we get to it, some brief background: Since 1940, Australia has only ever had one other hung parliament – Gillard’s in 2010. Labor won 72 seats, and so did the Coalition. Green Adam Bandt, and independents Tony Windsor, Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakshott agreed to back Labor, giving them the required 76 seats to govern.

That period also happens to coincide with one of the most productive periods of legislation for an Australian government. The fact is, hung parliaments can be a good thing if sensible people hold the balance of power.

As it now stands, The Morrison Government holds 74 seats, but one of those is occupied by the Speaker of the House, Tony Smith. They also have Nationals MP Kevin Hogan, who left the government benches after the ousting of Turnbull but has guaranteed supply. So of the six cross bench MPs, the Coalition needs at least two of them. Katter will have almost certainly have to be one them.

Here’s how that man opened his media statement last night.

“I would hope that other cross benchers would see it the same way as I do any further instability in government by leadership or early elections will result in us having more Prime Ministers than Pakistan.”

Obviously, we have had more Prime Ministers than Pakistan, both in the last decade, and in history (Scott Morrison is Australia’s 30th Prime Minister. Imran Khan is Pakistan’s 22nd. And since 2008, Pakistan has had five Prime Ministers. We’ve had six). Things went downhill from there.

Katter wants loans to banks stopped, and instead for the government to take all of the money. This, he says, will help “the average farmer” reduce their liability “from $120,000 a year to around $27,000 a year”. He doesn’t say how or why.

He also wants the “Hughenden Irrigation Scheme” – a push by residents in his electorate to build a dam between Townsville and Mt Isa and turn the area into a cropping region – given the green light. More broadly, he wants dams built all around Northern Australia in order to pump water into Central Australia, thus opening up the desert to pastures.

20181020 Statement regarding Wentworth by-election result MR

He also wants to end “diabetes and other malnutrition related disease in First Australian communities”, by re-opening local market gardens. That’s actually not a bad idea, but Katter’s reasoning for the cause of the problem – that “the Labor Qld Government removed all of the missionary market gardens” – is complete nonsense.

Here’s a few more lines from his release, with appropriate corrections.

“Take out the world registry of deserts; 20% in First Australian (Aboriginal) lands, legally prevented from commercial development and nearly 10% national parks, of what is left is foreign owned. And to say otherwise is a lie.” Aboriginal lands are not legally prevented from commercial development. And the rest of the nation is not foreign owned. I guess I must be lying.

“It’s a fair call that the nation now must import everything except 60 per cent of our building materials and food.” No, that’s not a fair call. It’s complete nonsense.

“The nation has been reduced to just an iron ore and coal quarry.” No, it hasn’t.

“And whilst Prime Minister Morrison has no time to build a rail line into the Galilee…” the Morrison government supports the construction of the Adani rail line.

“If they don’t deliver these things, then they don’t deserve to survive. And any arguments that the ALP would be worse just infuriate every decent person in this country.” That comment came shortly after explaining how the ALP was worse.

And then there was this – the core of Katter’s demands – which will see the nation ‘drought proofed’: “…The wonderous energy and food giant Doctor Bradfield’s Hells Gate Irrigation Project, [Morrison] can start with a proof of profitability that is the Hells Gate delivery system. Big Rocks Weir, west of Townsville, the critical first stage delivery system for Hells Gates. A statement that they are ‘gunna do’ Hughenden and Big Rocks is not worth a plop in spittoon. Do it. Or face the consequences.”

Having delivered three explicit threats in his media statement Katter then describes how he wasn’t threatening anyone… which he then follows with another implied threat.

“I don’t say these things by way of threat, I would say any decent Prime Minister would act with passionate speed to address them. These things will ensure enthusiastic support from myself, and I would hope from the cross benchers. And it may even enable the Government to survive.”

Maybe. Maybe not. But who cares, it’s only a government after all, right?

Some hold the theory that Katter, now a man of advanced years at 73, is simply showing the early signs of dementia. I’m not so sure. I’ll leave you with a quote from a decade ago, when Katter used his favourite analogy – anything to do with crocodiles – to prove that climate change was a hoax.

“I mean, if you could imagine 20 or 30 crocodiles up there on the roof, and if all that roof was illumination, and saying that we wouldn’t see anything in this room because of a few croco-roaches up there. Are you telling me seriously that the world is going to warm because there’s 400 parts per million of CO2 up there?”

Strap yourselves in folks, this is going to be a rough ride.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.