OPINION: by George Christensen MPNews Weekly
Bob Katter should never have left the National Party
, November 26, 2011
Bob Katter should never have left the National Party. Or, to be more precise, the National Party should never have hung up the hat on Bob Katter.
On July 9, 2001, Bob Katter terminated his membership of the federal parliamentary National Party.
The moment had been brewing for some time, but when asked by the media why he had taken the course of action he had, Katter indicated he still held firm to the National Party values that he believed the federal parliamentary party’s leadership had given up on.
“The vast bulk of National Party people would be diametrically opposed to globalism or deregulation, privatisation, and yet speech after speech would indicate, really, that our leadership is doing a salesman’s job for those principles,” Katter said at the time.
The inference was that Bob Katter had not left the party. The party had left him.
But one historical fact that has been overlooked by many is that Bob Katter never left the party.
Bob Katter never handed in his membership of the state-based political organisation to which he belonged and to which he paid his annual membership dues, this being the Queensland Nationals.
As a former staffer for Bob’s neighbouring parliamentary colleague and good friend, De-Anne Kelly, I know Bob never wanted to leave the Queensland Nationals.
I read a copy of his resignation letter that ended up in De-Anne’s possession.
The indication from the letter was that Bob Katter wanted to sit as an independent Queensland Nationals MP in federal parliament, much as Tony Crooke does now for the WA Nationals.
While this may not have been ideal, in the long run it certainly may have been better for the conservatives in Queensland.
I recall that De-Anne made an impassioned plea to the Queensland Nationals party president at the time to consider this outcome. The plea fell on deaf ears.
Two days after Bob Katter left the federal parliamentary National Party, the party president terminated his membership of the Queensland Nationals.
It was no insignificant thing.
Bob Katter had been the son of a Country Party federal MP who served the nation and the party for 23 years, three of them as Minister for the Army.
In his own right, Bob Katter had been a National Party state MP for 18 years.
During that time he was a minister of the crown and a close confidant of former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the man who literally made the National Party in Queensland.
From there, Bob Katter went on to win the seat of Kennedy from a sitting Labor MP in 1993, when most Coalition MPs and candidates were being flogged left, right and centre by the then Prime Minister Paul Keating, thanks to the then Liberal leader John Hewson and his 15 per cent GST proposal.
And on July 11, 2001, he was unceremoniously shown the door by the party he and his family had long served.
“When Bob announced that he was going to run as an independent, under the constitution and by-laws of the party, that terminates his membership of the Queensland National Party,” the Queensland Nationals president told the media at the time.
He was wrong.
There was nothing in the constitution and by-laws of the Queensland Nationals that mandated the termination of Bob Katter’s party membership.
The party president had made a call of his own on that matter and, it seemed, outside his constitutional scope as party president.
Many in the party disagreed with this move. Even the state parliamentary National Party leader at the time, Mike Horan, lamented the decision, saying he was “quite sad to see Bob go, because Bob has been able to stand up and talk about those issues that are worrying people”.
But the damage was done.
Even if aggrieved rank-and-file party members were able to roll Bolger on his unilateral and unauthorised decision, it was inconceivable to think Bob Katter would have gladly kept paying his membership dues knowing the party president wanted him gone.
Cut to 2011 and the descendent of the Queensland Nationals, the Liberal National Party (LNP), is on the verge of a long-awaited electoral victory.
So long-awaited, in fact, the last time there was any conservative government of longevity in the state, Bob Katter was a minister in it.
Now, Bob Katter and his newly-founded Australian Party are a growing concern for the LNP, particularly with two of the LNP’s former state MPs — member for Beaudesert Aidan McLindon and now member for Dalrymple Shane Knuth — having defected to Bob Katter’s Australian Party ranks.
Despite these defections, the absolute shellacking that Queensland voters seem destined to give the tired and inept Anna Bligh Labor government will ensure that the LNP governs in its own right.
However, the Australian Party may stop some Labor and independent seats from coming back into the LNP fold at the next state election, and in the long run the situation may pose problems for the non-Labor vote, unless the LNP scraps the optional preferential voting system in Queensland.
But it needn’t be this way.
Neither the LNP nor Bob Katter’s supporters may like to hear it, but the Australian Party is, in a way, the child of the National Party.
The people behind it, like its national president Rowell Walton and its senior vice-president Rob Nioa, were high-ranking officials in the old Queensland National Party.
So it’s not surprising to me then, as a member of the LNP and the Queensland Nationals before it for more than 17 years, that when I read the Australian Party’s values statement, I get a sense of déjà vu. I have read very similar stuff before — in the Queensland Nationals’ “We Believe” statement.
And so the answer is this: reconciliation and reunification.
To truly get the best long-term conservative government in Queensland, the efforts of all of the non-Labor forces are required, not just to defeat the socialists but to forge new policies, a new vision for Queensland and a new prosperity for Queenslanders, be they in the big cities or in the bush.
Even federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott has recently said that he thinks “Bob would be very well-advised rather than start a new political party to have a look at the LNP”.
I couldn’t agree more.
As a division of the Liberal Party, the LNP ascribes to the “broad church” principle.
It should be broad enough, like the brim of the famous hat, to encompass the views of Bob Katter.
George Christensen is federal Liberal National Party (LNP) member for Dawson, Queensland.