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What if the Independents hold the balance of power?

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Many pundits say that the federal election is going to be extremely close and the polling appears to confirm that. If the election is indeed close, then the possibility of a hung parliament in the lower house arises and Independents may hold the balance of power and decide which Party will form Government.

THERE IS also the strong possibility of Independents and/or minor party candidates winning more seats.

The three existing Independent MPs are Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, all of whom hold rural seats in Queensland and NSW.

Leigh Sales from the ABC's Lateline programme interviewed Bob Katter and Tony Windsor, the members for Kennedy on Queensland and New England in northern New South Wales respectively, about what Independents holding the balance of power would mean.
Bob Katter, Independent MP for Kennedy

According to Bob Katter, "...the party system has served the big city interests, the big corporate interests, but it has not served the interests of ordinary people, 30 per cent of us, which live outside of the major capital cities".

Tony Windsor says that this federal election campaign has been the worst he has ever seen, with a total lack of substance.

"People are so undecided, uninspired by the lack of vision in terms of this political campaign," said Mr Windsor.

Independent Australia unreservedly believes that the Independent gaining the balance of power would inject some overdue democracy into the Lower House rather than continuing its normal function as a rubber-stamp for the Government of the day.

The following is a short excerpt from the transcript of the programme. (You can read the full transcript or download the vodcast of this programme by visiting the Lateline website.)

LEIGH SALES:  this issue of a big Australia, it's something that's exercised a lot of people during the campaign. It's something that worries people in big cities having more people come because they worry about infrastructure. Are you saying that in your region you actually want more people?

BOB KATTER: We don't want them to go to the cities. We want to take some of the people out of Sydney and Melbourne and put them where they can have a civilised lifestyle, which we can provide for them in Australia.

I mean, if you drop a series of hydrogen bombs from the back of Cairns, the other side of Mareeba, 30 kilometres from Cairns, all the way across to Broome, you won't kill anybody. There's nobody living there.

I mean, there's about 95 per cent of the surface area of Australia - just cut out the little coastal strip and a little dot around Perth: the population's not much different than when Captain Cook arrived. There's only 670,000 people living on 95 per cent of the surface area of the country. And, I mean, we're talking about overpopulation!

I mean, the rest of the world must really laugh at this. I mean - but the concept of developmentalism, the concept of a vision where people can live in a civilised city of 40,000 or 50,000 people, that seems to have been lost completely and it's gotta be restored and the people will restore it. You know, please go on in an give the Independents the balance of power.

LEIGH SALES: Well, how will the people restore it? Well let me - I'll come to that balance of power issue in a second. Let me just ask one more question before I do. Tony Windsor, during this campaign we've heard a lot from commentators and from some voters that the campaign's been short on substance, that it's lacked vision. What have you made of the campaign?

Tony Windsor, Independent MP for New England

TONY WINDSOR: Well I think it's been the worst political campaign that I've ever seen.

I think both leaders haven't shown their real substance. I think the campaign that's sort of encapsulated by Tony Abbott going to an election with the union movement writing his industrial relations policy and Julia Gillard going to the election with a boat people's policy written by the Liberal Party shows the unreality that the electorate has actually looked at.

And that's why I think the polls are so close. People are so undecided, uninspired by the lack of vision in terms of this political campaign. Even the population debate that Bob was just talking about has all been about western Sydney and western Melbourne. It hasn't been about Western Australia or the other parts of regional Australia.

It's been a debate that's been politically marketed into Western Sydney because that's where both of them think that the balance of power will be actually determined, the winner will be determined in those western suburbs. And that's a nonsense to have that debate when there's massive regional areas that haven't been developed, could be developed.

People - there's unused infrastructure in many of these communities and the population could expand and grow in some of these areas, but not in Sydney anymore. We've done too much of that. But government policy has driven that.

The centralist policies that we've had in the past have all been about driving people into a feedlot, and that feedlot's Sydney and suddenly the feedlot is full. And now we're talking about closing down the rest of Australia because we can't fit any more people in the feedlot.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned before, Mr Katter, about the possibility of a hung parliament and you're basically saying "Bring it on." As a former National Party MP, should we assume that if neither party did have an outright majority, that you would align yourself with the Coalition?

BOB KATTER: I mean, that's a ridiculous assumption to make. I have said continuously and continuingly - and this is true of Kennedy; I can't speak for the rest of rural Australia, but I suspect it would be true for the rest of rural Australia.

We are not allowed to survive. We are simply sinking. All our industries are closing down. Our cattle numbers are down, I don't know, 25 per cent last time I looked. Sheep numbers are down 50 or 60 per cent. We're closing six sugar mills every 10 years. We've only got 20 to go and we'll have no sugar industry at all.

Um, the dairy industry's down 15 or 20 per cent. We've lost 4,000 or 5,000 farmers. And at the conclusion of 12 years of LNP, we have a suicide - a farmer committing suicide every four days. I mean, that's something to be proud of in this country, isn't it?

And everyone's  just moving away from rural Australia, where we've got miles of infrastructure that's not being used, and cramming into the cities. I mean, and there's not the slightest word in all of this election campaign about that problem or repopulating the people into these demographic centres where we can absorb huge amounts of population.

LEIGH SALES: So given that and given that you're possibly likely to find yourself in a powerful position - given all of the concerns you've outlined, how would you decide who to align yourself with, if you did wind up in one of these kingmaker roles?

BOB KATTER: Well, I mean, as far as I'm concerned, I will be giving the gong - I have no pre-conceived notions about who should be or who shouldn't be. I'll be giving the gong to that person that allows rural Australia to survive.

We're not surviving now. Under your policies we cannot possibly survive. So I will give it to whoever's going to allow us to survive. I mean, the property rights issue, the environmental issues are taken to such an obsession that they're simply destroying rural Australia.

The free market - there's no country on Earth free marketing. Every other country on Earth enjoys an average subsidy level for their farmers of 49 per cent. Alright, if you wanna free trade you can, but you won't have a rural sector and within nine to 15 years, it doesn't matter what set of statistics you look at, this country will be a net importer of food.

We're a net importer of seafood now, a net importer of pork now, a net importer of fruit and vegetables, believe it or not, in this country. Isn't that something to be proud of: we can't feed ourselves? That's where we're going. Now, I mean, is there any vision to turn this around? No, there's not.

LEIGH SALES: OK. Let me bring in Tony Windsor there. We heard Bob Katter say that one of his - the factors helping him decide would be which party would best ensure the survival of rural Australia. If you ended up in a critical position in the next parliament to help determine who became government, what factors would you consider?

TONY WINDSOR: Well there's a presumption that I'm re-elected. And I'm in parliament because people presumed that they owned the seat. I don't make that presumption. But if in fact Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and myself are returned, and I think there's a very good chance that John Clements will win in Parkes, actually, as an independent.

BOB KATTER: Yeah, I'd endorse that. It's only three per cent and he should make up that three per cent.

TONY WINDSOR: But if in fact there is a hung parliament, I think the first thing that those in the crossbench should do is just sit down and talk about the make-up of the parliament of that time. Considerations that I'd take into account was who won the most seats? Who got the greatest vote? What would people in this electorate want? What are some of the significant issues in terms of regional Australia?

And most importantly - and I've been in a hung parliament before at the state level - most importantly, stability of governance for the rest of Australia. I don't see this as being some sort of bidding contest with a wishlist where we just go in and bat and try and get as many hospitals for our constituencies. I see it - or I would see it as having some real responsibility.

I think that there'd be some issues in terms of the executive of government as well which I'd look seriously at, and I'm sure Rob Oakeshott particularly would have some issues there. He's not here tonight because that particular part of the world can't access telecommunication to give a direct feed to Sydney and I think that ...

LEIGH SALES: That's right.

TONY WINDSOR: ... that says something about telecommunications in this country, that an elected individual is unable to make his way to telecommunications facilities. I'm here sitting at a racecourse and we're plugged into a plug at the racecourse in Tamworth.

So, there's some improvements to be made. But I think it's something that if it does happen, we should take a deep breath and really consider the whole nation, rather than what particular parties or the history of various individuals within parties have had on us and try and make a reasoned decision for all of Australia.

And in fact the way this campaign's been run, the hypocrisy in this campaign from the party leaders and the absence of Warren Truss as a leader at all, I think they actually deserve a hung parliament and I don't think it'd be too bad.

It'd be a good thing for regional Australia and I don't think it'd be a bad thing for Australia and it might be a wake-up call for the parties, that running these Western Sydney-type campaigns leaves a lot of people out of the debate and country people are sick of being left out.

LEIGH SALES: Bob Katter, final word to you.

BOB KATTER: Tony's point that regional Australia's been left out and suddenly we're not being left out, because the independents have been very, very strong and they look like gaining an extra seat in John Clements in NSW. They're not being left out now.

They're being very, very seriously considered. And even if it's not a hung parliament, trying to rule with five or six members up your sleeve - I did that, I was in a government, a senior minister in a government - is very, very difficult indeed.

But our position and the position of rural Australia will be taken into consideration, which has not been the case over the last 12 years under the LNP and over the last three years under the ALP and the ALP previous to that. We were just not taken into consideration at all.

The party system has served the big city interests, the big corporate interests, but it has not served the interests of ordinary people, 30 per cent of us, which live outside of the major capital cities.

LEIGH SALES: Gentlemen, it was very good to get both of your views tonight. Thank you for making the time and the effort to be with us. Bob Katter and Tony Windsor, thank you very much.

TONY WINDSOR: Thanks, Leigh.

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