A few days after the Queensland election, Bob Katter had this to say to Tony Eastley on ABC Radio:
What we have here is a beast that’s been slumbering and is now lumbering out of his cave, and he’s got his club and there’s a lot of people out there that he’s going to whack.
Katter can easily be dismissed by the national media as (to quote the man in the white Akubra himself) “madder than a cut black snake”.
But he’s a former Queensland Minister, holds a seat held by his father before him (with the interesting intermission of a Labor MP, one Rob Hulls, now better known as Victorian Attorney-General), and has a lot of electoral appeal in regional Queensland.
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He also has a coherent view of the world – however unfashionable his economic nationalism may be.
Katter is right to conclude from the Nats’ dismal performance in the state poll that the time is right for a “new conservative force”. The issues he targets – privatisation, globalisation, free trade – are all deeply unpopular in the Nats’ heartland. Added to that the opposition to WorkChoices which is strong in regional Queensland – low wage country where Labor almost knocked off some sitting members on the strength of an IR campaign.
Intriguingly, Katter says his new party may support collective bargaining as a core policy. Katter’s support base is not dissimilar to Barnaby’s. He appeals to the same pockets of agrarian socialism and conservative moralism. But Katter has the advantage over Barnaby of not having to toe the government line most of the time.
If John Howard and Mark Vaile cast their mind back to the Pauline Hanson phenomenon as well, they’d be foolish indeed to dismiss Katter’s “beast” as a tame cat. The trick, for the Coalition, will be to cage it.