Events moved quickly yesterday in Parliament House, and the press pack that sprinted between media conferences once again found themselves listening to an unlikely king-maker – Bob Katter.
On the last day of the interregnum in September 2010 we were crammed into Katter’s office where, after listing many of his pet policy concerns, the member for Kennedy announced that he would back Tony Abbott as the next prime minister.
Yesterday, a short time after Tony Windsor seemed to have set up a road-block to Kevin Rudd forming government as resurrected prime minister, Katter announced he was making a “very hard call” and that “if caucus selects Kevin Rudd, then I will provide a vote of confidence to facilitate his election as leader”.
At the Windsor media conference, Rob Oakeshott described the retiring member for New England as “the best of the best” and it was clear that the member for Lyne, also retiring, would easily be co-opted to Windsor’s blocking move.
However, with Katter switching sides to back his good friend and fellow Queenslander, Rudd, the two independents would no longer be needed for Rudd to demonstrate confidence on the floor of the House of Representatives – thereby leaving the way open for Rudd to form government. The roadblock had been removed.
At the time of writing, the other cross-benchers giving their support to Rudd are Greens MP Adam Bandt, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, former Liberal MP and speaker Peter Slipper, and former Labor MP Craig Thomson.
In explaining his move, Katter said: “Remember he comes out of Queensland. He’s very development oriented. He introduced the NBN. And also the national energy highway.
“The national energy highway, as far as north-eastern Australia goes, it means the Galilee Basin, the giant Pentland irrigation project, and it means the opening up of the north-west minerals province – the massive phosphate, iron ore, and silver, lead and zinc deposits...”
Katter was asked if he’d done a deal with Rudd over his policy wishlist.
“I assume, and I use the word ‘assume’ that those policies are in place [if Rudd returns].”
But had they discussed these priorities?
“He most certainly, on one occasion – it’s probably a year ago – gave me what he considered to be his vision for Australia, particularly north-east Australia ... most certainly [we discussed] the elements of it, that I am passionately interested in ... and we’ve also got agreement from Tony Abbott along these lines.”
Katter explained that the national energy highway transmission lines project that Rudd had set in motion had been stalled because the Queensland state government had not matched the federal funding to take the project forward.
Given his pivotal role in allowing Rudd to form government, Katter could have done more to explain why he was switching allegiances from Tony Abbott to Kevin Rudd – particularly as he noted that Abbott backed his policy agenda.
The fact that he did not gives the strong impression that mateship, and the Queensland factor, were the two factors that tipped Katter back into Labor’s camp.