Katter’s Australian Party has electoral promise. No doubt about that.
You don’t win two seats and secure 13.7 per cent of the vote at a state election without a fair degree of popular support. Even The Greens have struggled to achieve that level of electoral success.
The problem is, however, that Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) has squandered its opportunity to form a stable organisation that can build into the future.
Since the Queensland election a little over a year ago, KAP has had three Presidents, five National General Secretaries and two Queensland state leaders. Head Office has been cleaned out twice.
With the departure of Aidan McLindon, it loses its National Director. He was responsible for leading the party into its first election and has managed to keep it together until this point. Now a bunch of other unhappy position holders are leaving as well.
These are signs of dangerous instability and point to Bob Katter’s struggle to work within an organisation, even if it is named after him. Another warning light is the fact that KAP still has not been able to sort out who is going to run as its senate candidate in Queensland – the state where it faces the most chance of success.
And, primarily because the normally brash Bob Katter now acts like a deer caught in the headlights anytime the question of gay marriage is raised, the party has veered all over the shop on its social policy.
Its constitution espouses belief in Christian values and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, but Bob Katter has endorsed pro-gay marriage candidates right across Australia.
Katter has also given up the opportunity to capitalise on the LNP’s backflip over civil unions. Despite his son and Shane Knuth courageously opposing civil unions in Queensland Parliament, it was Bob’s direction that nothing be said on the issue.
Abortion is another case in point. Although Katter is supposedly against it, he is backing candidates who support the practice.
Deep down, it is social policy and Bob Katter’s inability to work out what he really wants to stand for that is causing much of the internal friction within the party.
They are also going to be the reasons that the electoral expectations of KAP are unlikely to be realised in September. Minor party voters believe in their principles and don’t like to see them compromised. The Democratic Labor Party and Family First are now poised to steal back KAP supporters who feel let down by KAP’s social policy fluctuations.
The reason for Bob Katter’s flip-flopping is that he still thinks that his party is going to go major in one election. It is what he expected in Queensland last year and his pride prevents him from readjusting his outlook now.
He also thinks that to get major support he needs to compromise on gay marriage. Or, or at the very least, stop talking about it.
But KAP is a long way off from becoming a major party. And in the deluded attempt to get there it is disappointing the many voters who helped propel it into a position where it could become a significant minor party, capable of holding the balance of power.
The truth is that KAP’s base is made of conservative people. They do not support radical, progressive social change. They are looking for a stronger stance on moral issues than that provided by the Coalition, or they are comfortable enough to vote for Bob Katter, even if they don’t particularly care one way or the other about social policy. These people do not make up the majority of society, but they do comprise a considerable voting bloc.
These voters will leave KAP just as quickly as they flocked to the party if they feel it is compromising itself. Unfortunately for Bob Katter, there are already more than enough poster boy articles about his ACT senate candidate, Stephen Bailey, floating around on gay news websites for that feeling to be setting in.
The considerable size of this voting group can be seen in recent election results.
KAP’s 2012 Queensland Election campaign was the first proof that running a strong campaign against gay marriage is more popular with the public than campaigning for it.
In an election where voters went in with baseball bats to smack Labor around the head, the LNP campaigned hard against civil unions. KAP went harder against gay marriage, particularly because it identified it as a weakness in Campbell Newman that could be exploited.
Every single poll I’ve seen about gay marriage based on party affiliation has shown the majority of LNP voters oppose the concept. KAP targeted this effectively. Despite the LNP’s record majority, it lost primary support in one in five seats. The LNP only won 78 seats because Labor was massacred. It is not insignificant either to this argument that Anna Bligh and Labor also banked on winning support for their civil union stance. They didn’t.
When KAP aired its hard-hitting advertisement highlighting Campbell Newman’s support for gay marriage, the media and left-wing pro-gay marriage groups went into a predictable nuclear meltdown.
I was working in KAP’s Head Office at the time and it received a multitude of hate emails. Most of them came from Sydney or overseas. But public support for the party increased. It increased across the state and in every target seat.
KAP had a base of around 5 per cent shortly before the advertisement played. Just two weeks later it polled 13.7 per cent in the seats it contested. This trounced The Greens, whose own vote dropped significantly. It is quite something to consider that the pro-gay marriage Greens were not able to pick up any Labor voters, even though one third of them went looking for a new political option.
A similar story can be seen in the recent Tasmanian Legislative Council elections. Pro-gay marriage candidates failed spectacularly. When gay marriage becomes a campaign issue, Australians vote against it.
But Bob Katter has failed to grasp this and has bought into believing that negative media publicity hurts electoral success. It doesn’t. Especially when you are a party with a profile that appeals to people who detest the new-age elitism of the gay marriage crowd.
Bob Katter now believes that the Campbell Newman ads cost his party government in Queensland. I’m not sure many political commentators would agree with his assessment.
There is a well-established minor party on the left. KAP will never take votes from that section of society and will lose support in any attempt to do so. However, there is no strong minor party on the right. The question for KAP is this: will it have the social policy settings and stability to be around long enough to attract conservative voters and fill that political void?
I suggest that the answer to that question is no, especially not while it is endorsing pro-gay marriage candidates. As someone who worked hard within the party to achieve success while it stood for something, I am disappointed by that answer. I am sure Bob Katter will be too when he wakes on the morning of September 15, 2013.