Tagged: Bob Katter Jr

Arse-backwards in Queensland’s backwoods

It’s one of those things that gives us poor Banana Benders our backwoods reputation. In 1987, just as AIDS crashed into the national consciousness via the Grim Reaper advertisements, a brawl broke out in the Queensland National Party – its moral façade soon to be torn to shreds by Tony Fitzgerald QC – over contraception.

Mike Ahern, the progressive health minister and future premier, took a proposal to Cabinet to allow the sale of condoms through vending machines. The premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, rebuffed him. When students defied the ban and installed machines around university campuses, police were despatched to rip them from the walls in the dead of night.

Without so much as a shred of irony, Bob Katter Junior – then the minister for Aboriginal affairs in Joh’s infamously corrupt government – defended the ban with these immortal words: “Condoms are despicable things that won’t prevent the spread of AIDS but will encourage the community to have sex with gay abandon.”

A few years later, Katter promised to “walk backwards to Bourke if the poof population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001 percent”, adding for good measure, “Mind you, if the percentage is what they say it is in the rest of Australia, I’ll take to walking everywhere backwards.”

Bob is, shall we say, not for turning. Less than two years ago, at a rally against same-sex marriage, he lamented what the word gay had come to mean. “No one has the right to take that word off us,” he spluttered, as if it ever belonged to anyone.

But Bob doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. Hasn’t talked about it since his Katter Australia Party broadcast advertisements ahead of the Queensland state election, which suggested that a centre-right government led by Campbell Newman would legalise same-sex marriage. He couldn’t have been more wrong, of course.

Later, Bob described the ads as a mistake “of major proportions”. Naturally, he meant a political mistake. It was politics, rather than principle, that forced the resignation of a Victorian KAP candidate, Tess Corbett, after she stated that paedophiles would be next in line to “get rights”.

And it was politics that forced the Katter Australia Party to suspend another Queensland senate candidate – the improbably named Bernard Gaynor – after he said he didn’t want gays or lesbians teaching his kids. Gaynor is fighting his suspension, claiming (with some justification) that Katter privately agreed with his comments.

Will Katter disendorse himself for his own long history of homophobic statements? He’s not saying. He wouldn’t answer when The Project’s Charlie Pickering asked him to repudiate the equation of homosexuality and paedophilia. “You are taking me outside the area of my concern,” he said. He was certainly out of his comfort zone.

Nor would he answer on Steve Vizard’s The Circle when asked what motivated his antipathy towards gays and lesbians. “The truth is I don’t think about it at all,” he said last June. “Never have, never likely to in the future.” Pressed, he buried himself in his own book on camera, presumably to remind himself what an incredible race of people Australians are.

One could speculate that all this was possible evidence of repressed sexuality on Bob’s part, because it’s obvious from his public statements over the years that he’s spent a lot more time thinking about it than he cares to admit. But, like so many ageing white men of his era, he’s befuddled by the shift in public mood.

Not so long ago, his views were cheered. Here in Queensland, before homosexuality’s decriminalisation in 1990, The Courier-Mail rendered the word “gay” as I just have, in quotation marks, and employed a prominent columnist who frequently spewed the sort of rhetoric that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Westboro Baptist Church.

Katter is regarded warmly by many Australians outside of his Deep North constituency. A contradictory man (his heroes are Red Ted Theodore and Black Jack McEwen), he has deservedly won admiration as a voice for farmers driven to the wall by deregulation and an all-powerful supermarket duopoly.

But, like Pauline Hanson before him, he represents a longing for old certainties and values that the rest of us mostly view as outdated at best, and bigoted at worst. Like Hanson, he has attracted candidates driven by fear and anger, confused and alienated by a country that no longer resembles the one they grew up in.

If Katter wishes for his party to attract credible candidates and become a force beyond the provinces, he needs to revisit this issue. He could start by having a conversation with his gay half-brother, Carl. Then he needs to have a conversation with himself about whether this is working out for him.

Otherwise he might as well begin that long march backwards to Bourke.

Reflections on the Queensland election

I don’t get excited about Queensland politics the way I used to, which explains why I haven’t bothered to blog about the state election until now, with the dust settling on the result. They just don’t make politicians like Joh Bjelke-Petersen any more, although Bob Katter did do his best to hold up his end of the agrarian socialist/social reactionary bargain with a campaign that lurched from the bold to the bizarre.

Actually, I have to credit Katter – at least he addressed some of the real issues Queensland is going to have to face in the next decade: I admire his feisty representation of suppliers in the fight against our supermarket duopoly, and he’s spot on, too, in his concerns about the management of the mining boom (especially coal seam gas) and how to balance that with agricultural interests. I’d add environmental interests, of course, except Katter would have all environmentalists buried at sea if he could.

But then there was his anti-gay marriage ad, which reminded me that he was still a Katter, the same one who said (back when he was a minister in Bjelke-Petersen’s government) that he’d walk backwards to Bourke if there were any gays or lesbians at all in his former electorate of Charters Towers, and added that condoms were despicable things that would do nothing to help prevent the spread of AIDS, but would encourage the community to have sex with gay abandon. Yes, he really did say that.

But enough about Bob. Everyone knows the result by now, and it was far from a surprise, except for the absolutely colossal margin. The word landslide doesn’t do it justice. Queenslanders tend to be a bit all or nothing, but reducing Labor to seven seats in a parliament of 89 takes the cake. And that’s where things are a bit of a worry.

I was unusually agnostic and apathetic about the result of this election partly because of one of my central concerns about Queensland politics: the state changes government far too rarely, with a long and ignoble tradition of governments staying in power for too long, aided by impotent oppositions. Apart from a brief interregnum in the mid ’90s, Labor had dominated Queensland politics since the Fitzgerald Inquiry destroyed the National Party in 1989. And having lived through the fag end of the Bjelke-Petersen years, the comparatively urbane Campbell Newman doesn’t fill me with anything like the same degree of fear and loathing.

With such a disastrous result for Labor, however, Queensland has assured itself that it will remain true to form. It will take the party a long time to recover in Queensland, and Newman and his conservative colleagues – many of whom are terribly inexperienced, some of whom are doubtfully fit for office – have an unprecented amount of power. It’s a problem exacerbated by the lack of an upper house in the state.

There’s a separate post to be written, perhaps, about the speeches given by the two leaders. Anna Bligh, after running one of the worst political campaigns in living memory, gave one of the best concession speeches I’ve ever heard. She was especially graceful in accepting that she had not been able to carry the public with her when she held a fire sale of the state’s assets in the wake of the global financial crisis. It was a reminder of the honesty and straight talk which won Bligh kudos during her handling of Queensland’s floods crisis a year ago – a point Newman acknowledged in his acceptance speech, leading a round of applause for her leadership of the state during that period.

It’s a generosity that was sadly missing before Saturday night, when there was an election to be won. Why is that? Why is it that political parties and leaders have to oppose everything, all the time? Why can’t credit be given where, and when it’s due?

There’s also a separate blog post to be written about National Living Treasure Clive Palmer and his antics, some other time. For now, it’s enough to say I’ll probably be an old man by the time Labor again governs this state; if indeed it ever does.

And even though I didn’t vote for them, that concerns me.