Morrison finds an ally in Katter
Scott Morrison has bought crossbencher Bob Katter’s crucial vote as he faces the final two sitting weeks of the year in minority government, after clinching a $230 million deal to “advance the interests” of the maverick independent MP’s far north Queensland constituents.
In a major win for the Prime Minister, Mr Katter last night told The Australian he was inclined to give the Morrison government the “benefit of the doubt” and oppose any motion to refer Victorian Liberal MP Chris Crewther to the High Court amid questions over his eligibility.
Mr Morrison also sought the member for Kennedy’s continued support on issues of confidence and supply “as well as all motions procedural or otherwise and second reading amendments that attempt to cause disruption to the good order of the House”.
Mr Katter and Mr Morrison met in Townsville at the end of the Prime Minister’s four-day blitz of key marginal seats in the state, where they agreed the government would deliver $180 million for the Hughenden irrigation scheme project and up to $54m for the first stage of Hells Gates dam.
“I acknowledge that you will continue to vote on legislation as you see fit, but ask you raise any concerns with the government prior to legislation being voted on,” Mr Morrison wrote in a letter signed by himself and Mr Katter.
“As always, I am happy to arrange regular meetings to discuss issues of concern to you and your electorate and arrange briefings from relevant ministers.”
Following the meeting Mr Katter said the Prime Minister “might be a bit smarter than I first thought he was” and firmed up his support on any referral motions.
Labor has threatened to send Mr Crewther, who is a shareholder of a company which partnered with a university that received a commonwealth grant, to the High Court but would need the backing of all six lower house cross-bench MPs to be successful.
“I think (Mr Crewther’s eligibility) is still a grey area. Where it’s a grey area or a 50-50 call I might be inclined to be influenced by other issues,” Mr Katter said.
“I’m inclined now to give them the benefit of the doubt and if that’s influenced my judgment so it bloody well should. If (Mr Morrison’s) been cunning enough to use me to do what he wanted to do in the first place then so be it.”
With just 74 votes on the floor of the lower house, the government must gain the support of at least one independent MP to pass legislation or defeat a referral motion.
Government sources stressed the deal with Mr Katter significantly removed new independent MP Kerryn Phelps’ bargaining power and said Mr Morrison would not make similar arrangements with other cross-benchers.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard promised independents Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott measures worth $550m when she was faced with a hung parliament, according to the government sources, but that money was meant for an entire term of parliament.
The government could call the next election on or shortly after Australia Day, meaning there is a chance Mr Morrison will have just two parliamentary sitting weeks left before heading to the polls.
Senior Liberal sources say it is more likely Mr Morrison will go to an election in May.