Mor­ri­son finds an ally in Kat­ter

The Australian - - THE NATION - ROSIE LEWIS

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.

EVAN MOR­GAN

Bob Kat­ter

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