Morrison spends $200m to nail down Bob Katter's support for minority government
Scott Morrison has pledged more than $200m for Queensland water projects to shore up Bob Katter’s support in the House of Representatives following the loss of the government’s lower house majority.
After a meeting between the prime minister and the lower house crossbencher on Thursday, Katter pledged support for the government during confidence votes, and has guaranteed supply in return for up to $180m for the Hughenden irrigation scheme and $54 million for the Hells Gate dam.
The correspondence to Katter from Morrison also says the government expects support during motions and second reading amendments “that attempt to cause disruption to the good order of the House”.
Morrison acknowledges in his letter to Katter that the Queenslander will vote on legislation as he sees fit, but asks that he telegraph any concerns in advance.
The Morrison government lost its one-seat majority after Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth went to the high profile independent Kerryn Phelps in a byelection on 20 October. Phelps will sit in the lower house once parliament resumes in late November.
Katter, the only conservative on the lower house crossbench, is a critical figure for the Morrison government as it contemplates managing the parliament in minority in an effort to extend the period before calling an election.
The formal agreement underscores Morrison’s sensitivity about losing votes in the House in the remaining time the parliament sits.
The government’s multimillion-dollar offer to fund two of Katter’s pet projects, made at the conclusion of Morrison’s Queensland pre-campaign sortie this week, comes days after he warned the prime minister not to take his support for granted.
The north Queensland maverick cautioned the government about assuming it had his support in votes Labor is expected to press once parliament resumes, like an attempt to send government MPs, particularly Chris Crewther, to the high court over section 44 concerns.
Katter’s most recent statements had focused on what he saw as government inaction on water security in the north.
“The question I want answered is why haven’t you, the Liberal party, who have been there for six years, why haven’t you built one single dam or weir in North Australia – where you promised $5.5bn would be spent,” he said last week.
The Queensland leader of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservative Party, Lyle Shelton, who is fighting for the same vote as Katter in Queensland’s north and central communities, accused the government of giving “cash for Katter’s vote”.
He declared north Queensland would not be getting a cent if Katter hadn’t flexed his muscle on the referral of Crewther.
The Coalition points out that Julia Gillard, during Labor’s period in minority government during the 43rd parliament, made a number of funding commitments to independents in return for their support in the parliament, and the government was already in the business of bankrolling infrastructure in Queensland.
Morrison said in a statement: “The agreement will support the continued stability of the government, and us getting on with the job. It will protect against political disruption by the opposition”.
“I thank the member for Kennedy for the way he has engaged in this process, and look forward to working closely with him in the months ahead”.
The funding for the projects boosts Katter’s chances of being returned in Kennedy at the next election. Katter’s Australian Party preferences are expected to play a crucial role in deciding Leichardt and Labor’s most marginal seat of Herbert, both in Queensland’s north, where the crossbench party is expected to put its resources into three main seats.
Bob Katter will support the government in the lower house on matters of confidence and supply and will telegraph concerns he has aboutother bills in advance, accordin to the agreement.