Mor­ri­son spends $200m to nail down Bob Kat­ter's sup­port for mi­nor­ity govern­ment

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Katharine Mur­phy and Amy Re­meikis

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.

Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

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.

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