An uncompromising patriot: Bob Katter MP
by senior correspondent Jennifer Martens
During his 30-plus years as a politician, the Honourable Bob Katter MP has tolerated a lot of name-calling, but one thing he won’t stand for is being labelled a Queenslander. “I’m not a Queenslander,” he said emphatically. “Never have been. I’m a North Queenslander - we’re entirely different animals,” said the MP for Kennedy since 1993. Mr Katter grew up in Cloncurry, Queensland, and set down his roots in the Sunshine State.
When asked what three adjectives he would use to describe himself, the keen rifleman said, “If I use them, then you would say that ‘humility’ is not one of them,” he laughed. In his warm style, he exceeded the three-word limit and described himself as “a bloke not to pick a fight with” and as a patriot. “I love my country very, very much. I envy the Americans greatly - for their unashamed patriotism. Australians need to be much more patriotic.”
His passion for his country and his state have been the foundation of his political career, which began in 1974. His family has been involved in politics since the 1870s. His father was Bob Katter Sr, Kennedy MP from 1966 to 1990.
Despite his family history, a career in politics was never Bob’s ambition. Before entering public service, the passionate, driven and uncompromising North Queenslander was successful in a variety of business ventures. He turned a failing insurance and superannuation business into a thriving enterprise, he ran a station with more than 250,000 acres, and he co-founded and developed a copper mine.
When he “came down from chasing copper in the mountains” he began to identify with the views and politics of then Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen - views that were completely opposite those of the Prime Minister at the time, Gough Whitlam. Despite the success Bob was enjoying as a businessman, he said, “Gough dragged me into [state] politics; everything he was doing was destructive. I got derailed by the combination of the stick of Whitlam and the carrot of Bjelke-Peterson.”
While more than a few disagree with Bob’s political views, few would criticise his work ethic and his achievements - some of which have changed the shape of Australia during the past 20 years. Between 1983 and 1987, he served as the Queensland Minister for Northern Development and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs. During that time, he helped institute self-management and private freehold ownership of the land for Queensland Aborigines - privileges the rest of Australians freely enjoyed. He spoke regretfully about the loss of those two milestones within the Aboriginal community. “Aboriginals are now very restricted in managing their own affairs,” he lamented. To add insult to injury, the legislation that provided Aborigines with private freehold land was completely overturned. “That precipitated the worst riot in Queensland Parliament,” said Bob. “Some 200 people were sent to hospital or jail.”
In partnership with Dr Joe Baker, Shane O’Connor and Vicky Kidman, Bob established the first commercial prawn and fish farm in Australia. He also played a critical role in the establishment of the largest stand-alone solar energy system in Australia, located on Coconut Island just off the Queensland coast. That endeavour was recognised with an Australian science award in the mid-1980s.
Of all of his accomplishments, Bob is most proud of the work he did to prevent the sale of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. “If it wasn’t for Peter Andrew, Tony Windsor and myself, this country’s greatest asset would be owned by foreigners.” He also gave a great deal of credit to radio presenters John Laws and Alan Jones, both of whom were very vocal in the campaign to keep the Snowy Mountains Hydro in Australian hands.
For most of his parliamentary career, Bob was a member of the National Party. He left to run as a Federal Independent MP in 2001 due to “disenchantment with economic rationality” that he felt the National Party was adopting. “I belonged to a party and I was an enthusiastic supporter of the central policy of the party, which was collective bargaining of our agricultural product so we could meet on equal terms the enormous might of Woolworths and Coles.” Seven years later, he strongly believes that the removal of tariffs and the removal of farmers’ rights to collectively bargain are destroying Australia’s agriculture. “When collective bargaining was deregulated, industry after industry simply collapsed. Within two months of the dairy industry being deregulated, the price to the famers went down 30 per cent,” he said. “When wool was deregulated, wool prices dropped clean in half. When they announced they were going to deregulate sugar, I decided that it was improper for me to stay in a party whose policies were the complete opposite of what I believe we needed for survival.”
He is gutted to think that he was a part of the government of the day whose policies destroyed the lives of some of the people he fronts daily. Bob recalls working to boost the inland railway line because it was thought that would be the best way to get our fruit and vegetable produce into Asia. Fast-forward to today and Bob says that now the irony is that it will be the conduit that will be used to bring Asian produce here. If our agricultural industry continues down the same path, Australia won’t be feeding Asia; Asia will be feeding us.
The mistakes of the past governments drive him today. He is committed to looking out for the interests of his constituents and to putting forward his vision for Queensland and Australia. A topic that is prominent on his agenda these days is the development of more dams. “We’ve allowed our rivers to savage the land and we’ve never harnessed them to overcome the cruelty of the annual drought.” Each year, Queensland experiences its fair share of flooding and drought. As many of the state’s occupants rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, capturing the extra water during the rainy season and utilising it later is critical. “God gives us these great assets, but he also gives us the challenge of utilising them.” With more than half of Australia’s entire rainfall run-off in the Kennedy electorate, he feels compelled to better manage the precious resource.
As an Independent, one of the things that surprises him most is that he has more access to ministers than he did while he was a member of the National Party. “When you are in the party, they treat you with contempt, but when you are in another party, you get more respect - not respect in the sense that they like you, but respect in the sense that they fear you,” he quipped. Bob takes full advantage of the attention and preference he gets as an Independent to further the needs of his constituents.
The term ‘enthusiastic’ doesn’t quite do Bob justice. ‘Passionate’ is a better description; ‘zealous’ might be closer to the mark. Call him what you like, the bottom line is that after he has considered an issue, he commits to a firm position on it. Two issues that he is passionate about are the development and population of Australia and the need for revised firearm regulations. “Our country can’t survive with only 21 million people,” he says. “It most certainly can’t survive when the 21 million are jammed into what I call the Golden Boomerang”, which is the area of Cairns through to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Quoting EG Theodore and Sir John McEwan, Bob said that Australians will not maintain ownership of this country unless we further occupy and develop it. He believes that in order to develop the talents of our citizens and sustain research, economic development and prosperity, we need a larger population. Until then, he said, we can expect our domestic human capital, like the late great scientist Howard Florey and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, to continue to migrate offshore for better opportunities.
Bob’s interest in firearms began as a youngster. In fact, firearms have been a part of his family for generations. “My grandad sold clothes under a covered wagon at the mining camps and his rifle was of vital importance to him then,” he said. A keen rifleman himself, he hopes to instil enthusiasm for rifle shooting in his children and grandchildren. In his family, a firearm has always been just another implement that, when used properly, is something to enjoy. “It is just something you have in a well-run house,” he said.
Hunting used to be a regular activity of his, until then Prime Minister John Howard’s gun laws came into effect. Bob views the current firearms restrictions as misguided. “The laws have been written in such a way that there is no protection for gun owners whatsoever. And we are even reluctant to admit owning a rifle these days. That is the level of persecution we face.”
While Bob, a former rugby player and current rugby official, supports the shooting sports, his bigger interest in shooting lies with an individual’s right to protect his family with a firearm. One of his favourite mantras is the Anglo notion that a ‘man’s home is his castle’. Hand in hand with this view is the right of Australians to protect their ‘castles’ as they see fit - and he is sympathetic with those who think that the best way to do it is with a gun.
He can’t understand the contradictory regulations John Howard’s government established. “You are allowed to have a rifle for sporting purposes, but you are not allowed to have one to protect your wife and family from the monsters of the night. The towering brainlessness in our country is demonstrated here. What sort of values say you can use a firearm for sport, but not to protect your children?”
Bob doesn’t want the government to usurp his responsibility of protecting his wife and children. “That is a responsibility that I will discharge,” he said. He’s quick to acknowledge that the state’s intervention is necessary in some cases, but “only a brainless and irresponsible person” would give up his right to protect his family as he sees fit. He says Australians, whether consciously or not, have empowered the state increasingly while sacrificing individual rights and that “the politicians have betrayed away our rights. “All of our laws should incorporate the right to protect ourselves, where suitable and where necessary, with a firearm.”
He referred to the 1987 Hoddle Street shootings in Melbourne to illustrate his point, hypothesising that had any one of the victims had a gun, the death toll would have been vastly different. In the real world, he said, the time of danger is “all over red rover” by the time the police arrive. Our police officers are among the best in the world, trained to handle any situation, but the reality is that police aren’t likely to be present at the time a crime occurs “so we have to have the capacity to protect ourselves and in some situations, the most effective way to do that is with a firearm”.
Never at a loss for words on any subject, the outspoken MP, family man, country music lover, shooter and patriotic North Queenslander will, when given the chance, bend your ear until the cows come home.