Rural Lawmakers Hold Key in Australian Election

With the country still waiting for the final results of the Saturday vote, reporters in the capital, Canberra, got a dose Wednesday of the self-described “force from the north” and the other independent legislators who could hold the balance of power in Australia’s first deadlocked Parliament in 70 years.

“If you live in a country town in Australia, every year you own a business, you know it’s going to get worse and worse,” Mr. Katter, a 65-year-old former stockman, said at the National Press Club on Wednesday. “Every year, you know your kids are going to leave because there are no jobs for them. Maybe a high school closes this year, maybe you lose your dentist next year.

“The people of rural Australia have put some of us here. They expect a return for having done that. As far as I’m concerned, they will get a return.”

Since the voting Saturday, the Australian news media have been scrambling to get a fix on Mr. Katter and the other once-obscure lawmakers who may be called upon to resolve the stalemate in the House of Representatives, where neither the incumbent center-left Labor Party nor a coalition of the conservative Liberal and rural-based National parties appear to have captured the 76 seats needed to form a majority government.

The final election result may not be known for another week. But Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her conservative rival, Tony Abbott, have already begun courting Mr. Katter, who has made no secret of how he intends to use his newfound power: to demand a “fairer go” for rural Australians.

All three independents hail from sparsely populated rural areas, where voters have long been at odds with the mainstream parties in Australia’s urban-focused political debate. Access to education, hospitals, jobs and telecommunications are key issues for voters in “the bush,” the vast stretches of scrubby grasslands that are home to about a quarter of Australia’s 22 million people.

The divide between urban and rural voters has long been a feature of Australian politics. The country’s vast expanses and relatively small population and tax base make it difficult for the government to provide basic services to many remote areas. But many country dwellers feel that their concerns are ignored by politicians scrambling for the bulk of votes in Australia’s heavily populated cities.

The three independents are all former members of the center-right National Party, the rural element of Mr. Abbott’s conservative coalition. But they have all bristled at suggestions that their former allegiance makes them more likely to support Mr. Abbott in a hung Parliament. While Mr. Katter does not endorse the Labor Party, he has described the conservatives as being “about as popular as a black snake in a sleeping bag,” with many farmers unhappy about the free trade deals enacted by the former prime minister, John Howard.

Tony Windsor, an independent representative from a northern part of New South Wales, told Sky News this week that he had rid himself of “two cancers” when he gave up smoking and split from the Nationals in the early 1990s. The 59-year-old former farmer and economist has been a bipartisan negotiator since he entered Parliament in 2001 and has said he is now more interested in forming a stable government that will last a full three-year term than in trading on particular favors for his electorate.

Rob Oakeshott, a 40-year-old from New South Wales, has been one of the loudest voices for parliamentary reform since he gained a platform as potential kingmaker in this election. He has said that he wants to reduce the stranglehold that Labor and the coalition hold on Parliament by making it easier for third parties and independents to introduce and debate legislation.

Mr. Oakeshott, who is widely reported to have allowed a refugee to stay in his home and has called for a more compassionate approach to asylum seekers, has also called on his fellow lawmakers to adopt a more collegial tone in Parliament, where petty insults and name-calling frequently dominate the debate. A young, charismatic leader with a personable style, Mr. Oakshott was once hailed as the next great hope of the National Party, but he left the party in 2002, saying that it had been co-opted by property developers and other special interests.

“Australia was completely underwhelmed by both major parties and by the way Parliament itself has been behaving,” Mr. Oakeshott said. “This is a moment where we can all do some things for all of us to get some better outcomes.”

After holding closed-door talks on Tuesday, the three emerged saying they would not necessarily vote as a bloc if called upon to break the Parliamentary stalemate. While they are all advocates for rural Australia, they differ on several key points, namely climate change, how to handle a recent influx of asylum seekers and the government’s proposed tax on mining profits.

They have said they will not engage in formal talks about the possible shape of a minority government until the official election result is finished. But on Wednesday, the three presented Ms. Gillard and Mr. Abbott with a list of seven demands, including a full briefing on the state of the economy, and an independent audit of how much the two opponents’ election promises would cost.

Ms. Gillard and Mr. Abbott could wind up having to deal with a fourth independent, Andrew Wilkie, whose election to a formerly safe Labor seat in the southern state of Tasmania appears likely but has not been confirmed. Another factor is Adam Bandt, a Greens party representative from Melbourne, who has said he would prefer to support a government led by Ms. Gillard but has not ruled out a compromise with the current opposition.

Meanwhile, Mr. Katter said he would continue to push the hardest bargain for his constituents on the banana plantations and in the coal mines of northern Queensland: “I’ve bought and sold cattle for a large portion of my life, and I like to think I can drive a deal.”

Bob Katter on the front page of the NYT. Who’d have thunk it?

15 thoughts on “Rural Lawmakers Hold Key in Australian Election

  1. The key that they hold, may well be to a fresh election, but only if the three split, 1 supporting Labor, 2 supporting Liberals.

    Then we get a 75/75 standoff and whoever appoints a speaker has no majority on the floor.

    Stable government requires a 76-74 split so when the speaker is appointed – a majority still remains.

    So for the sake of stable government the independents cannot split – so they will, play to the media, but in the end – suck up to Abbott.

  2. John, I like what I hear and see for the latest reports indicate the Coalition’s election pledge to stop asylum seeker boats is now history as the Independents and Greens MP, Adam Bandt would only support more humane policies which help newly arrived refugees to settle in. No wonder the L-NP is talking up the posibilitity of an early election for they are stuffed.

  3. Another election would be fantastic for the coalition. It would only reinforce the swing against the rabble that is the labour party and hand the coalition a clear majority.

    And Michael of Summer Hill Bob Katter will be supporting a hard line stance on asylum seekers. It would be fantastic if Katter convinced Abbott to militarise the borders and instead of turning boats around – sent them a clear message about the consequences of entering Australian waters.

  4. @Tony Abbott for PM
    Good luck with that one TAPM. It wouldnt be because TA cant persuade the independents of his ability to run a stable government would it (refuses to even get his numbers costed by Treasury like everyone else)?
    Katter doesnt like you liberals TAPM so dream on. He calls you slimy dogs and black snakes in bags.

  5. Wrong Tony Abbott for PM, the numbers suggest otherwise. Try harder next time.

  6. For our dear delude Tony Abbott for PM, in respect to asylum seekers Labor has 72, plus 4 Independents, plus 1 Green that makes makes 77.

  7. TAPM also needs to remind himself that it was Tony Windsor who helped stopped the sale of the Snowy Mountains Scheme that the retired Minchin was pushing for and here is what the ABS says about the Snowy Mountains Scheme..

    “the Scheme has demonstrated its value in producing peak hydro-electricity, in conjunction with generating plants of predominantly thermal generators, and the objective of increasing regulated supplies of water to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Valleys.
    Construction of the Scheme has also brought new skills to Australia and greatly enhanced the recreation facilities in the Snowy Mountains area. The social impact of the Scheme on the region has also no doubt been significant on the increase in size and prosperity of towns serving the area.”

    Not that most Australians dont know that…Here is what Windsor said

    Click to access 100805.pdf

    Its amazing isnt it. Windsor said the inpedependents provided the lightening rod in that situation of the sell off of the Snowy Mountains Scheme… and here they are again as the lightening rods this country desperately needs so that it can hopefully get the synapses working in some of those zombie politicians like TA.

    (and we all thought it was just zombie economists we had to worry about??)

    I can see edition two of the Profs book coming soon… “Zombie Politics – dead ideas still animating politicians”.

  8. Apparently also Tony Windsor has received an abusive phone call from a liberal demanding he just get on with the job of taking us all back to another election (and hang the expense)?

    How rude.
    What do you call that sort of behaviour? Is it the same behaviour we can all expect if they do get their majority? A dummy spit? A temper tantrum? Their way or the highway?

    The L/NP is showing signs that they have no idea how to manage a stable inclusive democratic process.

  9. Oh and News Ltd is cranking out polls – one every hour it seems saying people in the independents seats prefer the Coalition.
    We learnt from this election that polls and media spin should be ripped up and the media shouldnt be courted and should be ignored because they have turned political campaigning and politicians in this country into a sideshow. Murdoch and his media is nothing but a biased interfering old vulture that attempts blatantly to manipulate the voting process outcome in Australia. Go back to the USA – take your polls and stay there.
    There ought to be a law against this damn ugly manipulative intrusion.

  10. Admittedly. Alice, the people in New England, Kennedy and Lyne respectively, when given the chance to vote for someone committed to an Abbott government gave Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott respectively 2PP support of 71-29, 68-32 and 62-38 … just last Saturday

    Obviously a straw poll of 200 people in each seat with a 7% margin of error is far more salient than the mere election we held last Saturday.

  11. I loved the footage of Tony Abbott sitting down with the three independents.

    “Let me just say, I love the bush! Everytime I go to the bush, I think it’s just great!”


  12. @Fran Barlow
    Fran – if they had wanted to vote for LN/P they would have. They voted for independents. The people in those electorates voted firstly for independent decision making which is what the independents are doing. They owe no such alllegiance to LN/P or Labor or the Greens now.

    News ltd is very much part of the problem in why people prefer the honesty of these independents because News Ltd pushes the LN/P yet doesnt ever expose the nutty extremes they have been trending to such as “free marketism” which has decimated jobs in country towns, let Woolworths and Coles and Metcash and whoever run over them and city people.

    News rarely ever exposes the inclination for hatred of government structures (“bureacrats”) yet here are country people crying out for government services like better health and dental care. How does that marry up with their so called (by News Polls that give NO details of the actual poll) preferences for LN/P?

    Or should we just believe it because “the News Ltd Oracle thus spoke”!

    For goodness sake – the only way people get change is when they are prepared to change. So many people want change and whinge about change, but when it comes to voting think they came out of the womb and were immediately stamped either blue or red for life and thats how toddle off to the polls to vote.

    Its not like going to a rowdy jeering footy match where there are only two players which is what the insulting News Ltd media reduces (has reduced) our political process to.

    We also get the bare manipulated slanted scraps of the real policies and objectives from the news.

  13. @Fran Barlow
    Fran so thats how it went……

    All I can say about News Ltd is what more people should say… “Liar Liar pants on fire”

    Get Rupert out of politics before he starts grooming Tennis Boy for leadership.

    That would really be too close for comfort but at least we know who is really running the game then. Hey maybe Rupe has plans for an internationally digitally streamed new show “your favourite political gamesbhows – watch the action live – see Tony rock n roll and Julia do the salsa” – roll up and pay to watch.

  14. How ironic that we have to go to the NY Times for an objective look at Katter and the other Indies!

    Our own media still cannot get past chortling about Bob’s interest in bananas and fruit bats.

    Of course, we residents of remote rural communities are used to being neglected, mocked and disrespected.

    It is often said that Australia is one of the most urbanised nations on Earth – in fact, this has been the case for more than a century!

    The generic Australians of the sprawling suburbs say they love and value the bush, but this is mere conceit.

    Their image of the bush is outmoded and simplistic, their approach is sentimental and ignorant – their poor understanding of the problems facing outback communities is exemplified by the Welfare Reforms about to be imposed upon us by whichever side is victorious.

    Authoritarian and counter-productive Welfare Reforms that suburbanites would never tolerate.

    The one thing I hope for out of all this, is that we may finally see a reasoned debate about the future of remote Australia.

  15. @Ron E Joggles
    I agree with you Ron E Joggles but what you country people dont realise is that urban dwellers are being run staright over by the same “free market privatised” crap (it is crap!!) that has been ignoring country and remote dwelling people as well.

    I really dont like being ripped off at the supermarket (only to imagine how good the world is for Metcash, Coles, Woolies and Wesfarmers and their profits and only to know how badly they rip off country producers as well). If we had half a backbone in this country we would not vote for either major parties (and not touch the filthy Murdoch rags) and put a whole lot of indepenmdents in, or least we should, with our votes, go feral and make them swing from the trees trying to chase us all.

    As for Tony Abbott saying “I really like the bush” – urban disdainful conceit just about sums it up but do you think labor is any better? I dont think so. Its a marginal choice.

    They are both going down the free market road. It really ticks me off. No good will come of this.

    btw – no woman will be able to have a doctor when she gives birth on the Northern beaches soon. You know its amazing…. I had my son 18 years ago at Mona Vale. No one could predict Id need a doctors help in the end and some forceps. If Id had to transfer at that stage to RNSH in an ambulance both my son and I could easily have died. he already had signs of foetal distress but apparently now they have decided women who have babies at Mona Vale dont need doctors. Its really scary.

    Also the people here dont get decent food in hospitals anymore. The people in Mona Vale hospital get their food cooked in a private company in Hornsby despite having large kitchens on site where the food used to be cooked. Now its cooked and transported (one two or three days later). All the nurses say of you want your relatives to eat decent food in hospital – cook it and take in in to them.

    I despise State Labor.

    This is all nonsense. We cant “afford this” we cant “afford that”. Whatever we have been doing with our taxes (and who we have been letting off paying tax) we are turning into a third world country. Yet we have a larger population that pays more tax now than forty years ago, when the services were better.

    Just explain that to me? Country people being pushed down and city people being pushed down and less investment in public services and civilised infrastructure than we had thirty or forty years ago.

    How does this work unless its dismal policy andf dismal parties. Or is it the destructive generation running this show?

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