View from The Hill

Day 10: Queensland preference negotiations crucial for Katter Party’s senate hopes

James Blundell sees Bob Katter as both a political and personal mentor. AAP/Dave Hunt

Preferences are the auxiliary batteries of politics. They give an extra boost to supplement parties’ and candidates’ primary power supplies. Their bestowal or denial can make the difference between political life and death.

In the decision to preference against the Greens the Liberals are not just trying to drive Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt out of the House of Representatives but also to polarise the election.

It’s an unsurprising decision, after the Victorian Liberals preferenced against the Greens in 2010. But it is significant that Abbott took personal ownership of the issue - declaring he had made a “captain’s call” - rather than have the party organisation handle it.

He wants to be cast as the “Green Slayer” (the headline in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph). The Greens are a good enemy to be seen confronting. The Coalition’s base hates them and they can be used to symbolise and demonise all that voters didn’t like about the hung parliament.

Rudd is well aware of how much the Gillard-Green deal cost Labor politically. He said today he wouldn’t conclude any formal agreement with the Greens or independents if he found himself in a minority government situation. (It’s clear he would, however, seek to hold power.)

As for preferences, all those “are handled by the national secretary … I’m not aware of what agreements have been reached”. In the seat of Melbourne Labor preferences are only of academic interest – they won’t be distributed.

Meanwhile, although less in the spotlight, in Queensland intense preference negotiations are underway that are potentially crucial to whether Bob Katter gets a Senate candidate elected.

Whether micro parties succeed in winning Senate places depends on the auxiliary batteries. In Victoria former Family First senator Steve Fielding got in on a 1.9% primary vote, and current DLP senator John Madigan received only 2.3%.

According to ABC election analyst Antony Green, the last Queensland Senate place is most likely to be fought out between Katter’s Australian Party and the Greens (Green discounts the chances of Labor or the Palmer United Party).

Green gives KAP’s James Blundell, a name in Queensland through his singing, a “reasonable chance” of winning, believing KAP will poll well enough “to keep its head above the flood line of other micro parties”, although it can be a lottery, given the number on the Senate ballot paper and the vagaries of the placement draw.

“I think he will get the Coalition’s surplus. It’s a matter of whether Labor puts Katter or the Greens next. There may be a cross negotiation based on what happens in the lower house”, Green says. “Labor will want preferences somewhere in the House in Queensland and Katter probably has more to offer Labor in the House than do the Greens”.

In its negotiations for Senate preferences (which must be registered by Saturday) KAP’s own first priority is to try to aggregate support from other minnows.

Depending on how the contests go elsewhere, there is a chance that if Blundell wins, he could find himself sharing balance of power in the Senate. (With Peter Garrett retiring, it would be a case of the parliament losing rock and gaining country.)

Born in the Stanthorpe district of south east Queensland, Blundell works the family’s 5000-acre sheep and cattle property, spending about three months of the year on the road. Katter first approached him for the 2012 state election but Blundell told him he couldn’t hold public office because he was serving out a bankruptcy (which followed the collapse of his independent label recording enterprise). Instead, he wrote Katter a campaign song - “Give Bob the Job.”

“I got to know him personally. I developed an affection for him and his capacity for thought”, Blundell told The Conversation.

“Six months ago I received a series of phone calls from him. He said ‘I want you to run for the Senate’.

"He’d been listening to what I was saying [in music – for example Blundell’s "Ring Around the Moon” celebrates the highs and lows of country life]. It came down to Bob saying ‘there is the opportunity to expound your point of view if you’re ballsy enough to take it on.’“

For the 48 year old singer-cum-pastoralist, Katter has become a personal as well as political mentor. When earlier this year he had some problems "Bob turned up to make sure things were stable.”

Blundell had been been a Nationals voter (he was approached by the National party about 20 years ago to be a candidate but wasn’t interested). He says he was disillusioned with the “two party system” and “Bob was a voice in the wilderness.” He appealed as having “an experienced logic as opposed to an ideological grip on life”.

Blundell says young people respect Katter because “he represents taking a stance”.

“When you bring Bob’s name up people smile. Without fail they will say, ‘at least he tells the truth’”.

Blundell has been singing his way round some of the campaign trial, pulling in at country town pubs and starting to play a few numbers. His issues, he says, are “food security, job security and getting the dollar down.” And he’s “all for foreign investment, vehemently opposed to foreign ownership.”

He admits he struggles on questions (such as penalty rates) where he can see both sides of the argument. He reserves his final position on gay marriage, but thinks the discussion takes up too much public time. On Abbott’s “sex appeal” comment about a Liberal candidate, he can understand that the Opposition leader would be appalled “that it could be taken as derogatory” but believes it shouldn’t have been made.

In general political positioning, “30 years of travel and music have taken me from a very conservative viewpoint to a more balanced one.”

Thinking about the possibility of being in a balance of power situation, “the only thing I’ve been concerned about is where your vote is the deciding one”.

But then Bob would be there to give the lead.