Katters never change their spots


In 1999 I sat in one of the largest lecture theatres in the QUT Graduate School of Business to listen to my first MBA Business Law lecture.  I still remember feeling somewhat taken aback when the lecturer introduced himself as ‘Norm Katter’, short for Dr Norman Katter, a noted barrister and learned author on diverse legal topics.

The family resemblance was unmistakeable, from physiognomy to the lanky height.  Sure enough, Dr Katter is Bob Katter Senior’s oldest son, and brother to Bob Katter Junior, the inimical Queensland politician, and only sitting member of Katter’s Australian Party.

Beyond physical resemblance, however, the similarities between Norman and Bob end abruptly.  Dr Katter is a serious, thoughtful man whose sonorous sentences are precise and gain their authority from an unvocalised gravitas.  Not like Bob, who is gratingly stentorian, and appears to either have a prepared repertoire of slapstick faux pas statements, or is blessed with an uncanny ability to make them in a never-ending stream of unforced double-faults.

I have often wondered whether it is coincidence that you have to look pretty hard to find mention of the affiliation in either man’s professional biographies.

It may be a tribute to Bob Katter Sr, however, that both men appear to be made of petrified wood; strong, solid, forbidding, constant.

I could not imagine either man being deflected from his chosen path.

Katter Sr was a Brisbane-born scion of Lebanese Maronite extraction, a pioneering businessman in remote Queensland, and salt of the earth.  He was a member, at different times, of the ALP, the Liberal Party, the Country Party, and the National Party, perhaps rubbing off on his second son a traditional Australian agrarian socialism, mixed somewhat incongruously with a socially reactionary xenophobia and bigotry.  But it is just as likely that Jnr picked up that latter attribute from the people actually living in his electorate.

Jnr has never lived down his 1993 statement about walking backwards to Bourke if ‘if the poof population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001 per cent,’’[1] and that the critics of his party and fellow-travellers are ‘little slanty-eyed ideologues’,[2] a rather disgraceful shot at tough-as-nails Labor Senator Penny Wong, who has not only the temerity to be of Asian descent, but to also be openly lesbian.[3]

Currently Jnr is one of the feckless five[4] who hold the balance of power, and therefore also the ALP to ransom, in the Federal Parliament.  While he has been unsuccessful so far in facilitating the election of any of his party members in the States or Federally, Katter appears to give every indication of making his party a fourth force in Australian politics, ahead of the currently hubristic rump of Greens.

Anyone who thinks that a laughable prospect should revise the monstrously improbable history of One Nation and Pauline Hanson.

Thus it came to pass that just last week KAP had to dis-endorse a Victorian candidate, Tess Corbett, for suggesting that gays and lesbians are synonymous with pedophiles (assuming Ms Corbett knows the meaning of the word), and that it would be ‘a sad day’ if homosexuals were ever to have equal rights.[5]

What’s surprising about this incident is not that KAT has managed to attract dementia-afflicted candidates, but that Jnr’s reaction was to decry such comments as ‘stupid’.  Is Jnr re-defining himself as more forgivingthan he was in the 1990s?  And did this have something to do with a somewhat bitter public spat in 2012 between Jnr and his much younger half-brother Carl (Snr’s son to a second wife), who is openly gay and appalled by his brother’s homophobia?[6]

Somehow I cannot see Jnr change his spots quite so easily, though it is possible that it has come to dawn on him that KAT might never see anyone else elected on an openly homophobic platform, even if that’s what the party faithful actually believe.

Perhaps his older brother has been a moderating influence.  That would be an intensely private matter, though, given the lack of evidence about any public contact between the brothers.

Perhaps, though, it was actually Jnr’s son, Robert “Rob” Ignatius Katter (Bob Jnr Jnr?), who was elected to the Queensland Parliament for the seat of Mt Isa in 2012.  It might be that Rob is a little more in tune with changing attitudes, even in country Queensland.

What all this boils down to, though, is that while Jnr is at the reins of his party, it will most definitely be a socially reactionary force with quaint, simplistic, antiquated economic ideas that might make even a communist blush about any socialist follies of the past.

What should concern discerning voters is that the blind lurch to the right by the Rudd-Gillard ALP since 2007, and the opportunistic move even further right by Abbott’s coalition of the would-be-willing, creates a seedbed for KAP that might otherwise not have existed.

It is unavoidable to note that Bob Snr had six children.  His offspring have children of their own.  They are every bit as quintessentially Australian as John Howard was at pains to paint himself in his autobiography, Lazarus Rising, but far more actively engaged in their society than the Howards.  They already boast three generations of politicians.

Don’t count out the Katters, or people sympathetic to their ideas.  It is not enough to insist that political correctness alone makes some of these void.  It is possible to argue that politically correct opinions are the root cause of extremism, by stigmatising open public debate about issues that are clearly ugly, but that have undeniable voices convinced in their righteousness every bit as much as the PC ideologues.

As always, in these matters, the undoubted resilience and earnest patriotism of people like Jnr should be softened and harnessed for a common good.  Alas, for that to happen, we would need slightly smarter politicians in the major parties.


[1] Jensen, Erik (2010).  ‘Bob loves bananas … as long as they’re straight’.  Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-election/bob-loves-bananas–as-long-as-theyre-straight-20100907-14ye3.html, accessed 24 January 2013.

[2] Carlyon, Patrick (2012) ‘Toss a banana to Katter and Co’.  Herald Sun, 15 March, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/toss-a-banana-to-katter-and-co/story-e6frfhqf-1226299721974, accessed 24 January 2013.

[3] Let there be no mistake: I am fundamentally opposed to Wong’s Labor right opportunistic pragmatism, but not because of her personal choices or genetics.  In another life she would have made a formidable ally in a less fatalistic politics.

[4] Green Adam Bandt, and independents Tony Windsor, Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakeshott are the other four.

[5] Johnston, Matt (2013).  ‘Bob Katter political party hopeful Tess Corbett in gay furore’.  Herald Sun, 24 January 2013, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bob-katter-political-party-hopeful-tess-corbett-in-gay-furore/story-e6frf7kx-1226560368720, accessed 24 January 2013.

[6] Elks, Sarah (2012).  ‘Bob Katter’s half-brother Carl hits back against anti-gay ad with his own video’.  The Australian, 14 March, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/bob-katters-half-brother-carl-hits-back-against-anti-gay-ad-with-his-own-video/story-fn59niix-1226299245469, accessed 24 January 2013.


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