Does the Australian Party really matter?

14 June 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

There is one name that has slowly worked its way into being an important figure in Australian politics. That name is Bob Katter.

Many of you may think of him as just the gung ho politician who held the future of government in his hands during the hung parliament fiasco in the 2010 federal election. However, now it seems he might possibly have a bigger role in Australian politics.

The recent introduction of Katter’s Australian Party presents a new option for voters to take when the next election rolls around.

The new party has decided to tackle a select group of issues straight away in an effort to capitalise on the apparent voter displeasure with the current federal government and opposition.

These issues include opposing a carbon tax, stopping the sale of state owned assets and attempting to create a supermarket reform to break the noticeable stranglehold that Coles and Woolworths have developed.

While many Australians seem to not have any belief in the cowboy-hat-wearing Katter, it’s hard to deny his success.

Katter has held the seat of Kennedy in Queensland since 1993, following in the footsteps of his father who had held the seat for 24 years. In 2001, Katter made a change to contest the seat as an independent after leaving the National Party.

To say he has held the seat comfortably since the first election win would be a huge understatement, as Katter has consistently won around 60-70% of the votes on a two-party preferred basis.

This popularity is what makes Katter’s Australian Party interesting.

So is it possible that this popularity for Katter could spread across the country and end up having some prominence come election time?

Recently we saw the effect that a third major party can have on elections during the 2010 Great Britain election. This led to a hung parliament and forced an unlikely coalition between the Conservative party and the more left-leaning Liberal Democrats.

Katter’s party is far from being considered a major party, considering it has only just formed. In the current political climate however, it may be possible for him to gain support from a public that has been left dissatisfied with the major parties, both of whom who appear indecisive on some of the larger issues.

This has been pointed out by some in the journalism world such as Bella Counihan for The Age who says that Katter has positioned himself at the perfect time to take votes from the major parties.

While Australians are left in confusion over which way Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott really stand on issues such as climate change and the never-ending conundrum of what to apparently do about refugees, Katter may be able to pounce on the voters who don’t know which way to swing.

For a long period Australia has had strong minor parties such as The Greens but none of them have really stepped up to break the stranglehold that the two major parties have come election time.

‘The people are crying out for something different,’ Mr Katter said in the Courier Mail. ‘There are 20 to 30 per cent who refuse to vote for mainstream parties.’

This group of Australians who feel disconnected from the policies of the major parties may end up providing more support for Katter than we all think.

So don’t be too quick to dismiss Katter’s new party as a joke because he may end up having a bigger influence than any of us actually saw coming.

Matthew Dixon is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is part of upstart’s incoming editorial team. You can follow him on Twitter: @matthewdixon23.