Last week I posted a live Facebook feed of my sometimes heated interview with Bob Katter. We sat down on the steps outside the steps of the Mount Isa pre-poll centre and chatted for 25 minutes. Thanks to issues with my technical skills and a dodgy selfie stick, the feed came out in Facebook on its wrong side, first 90 degrees to the screen and then in portrait mode instead of landscape. Nonetheless there was a lot of interesting material in the interview and 4000 words spoken, mostly by Bob, so here it is for posterity.
DB: Hi I’m talking with Bob Katter. Bob thanks for talking to the North West Star. Bob, we’re here live outside the Mount Isa pre-poll centre. Bob, we’re about a week out from the election, what’s your take on it so far.
BK: Well you said, it’s the first time we’ve seen you in Mount Isa for the election campaign and that is right. In traditional electioneering you leave the biggest centres till last and you do the smaller centres first and that’s exactly what we’ve done in this election –
DB: Bob I –
BK – so that’s two days I’m here now in what is still the biggest voting area in the electorate. The biggest booths are in Cairns, very sadly, you know their population, but it’s still the biggest voting area so you leave that till last so here I am.
DB: Fair enough and I understand it is a big electorate, I guess what prompted my question before we started taping about was this your first visit was I accused you of snubbing the north west and you hit back at me saying that wasn’t true, and as far as I know you haven’t done a campaign launch in this part of the world.
BK In actual fact I haven’t done a campaign launch at all, and I have to say that’s just incompetence on our part, but then again we’ve been so busy attacking and fighting to try and get the leverage we need. When you say, I must perform and I must deliver or you should boot me out. That’s the way it should be always. Now, I could spend my time, I love electioneering, a big elongated pub crawl. And no one can criticise me because I’m electioneering. Sometimes in the Overlander (Hotel in Mount Isa) where I was last night in the bloody bar. It’s the one time I can justify it and I enjoy myself. But you must deliver. Now the Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not come out to North West Queensland with the disastrous suffering that we had and endured with the death of all these cattle –
DB Hang on surely he would have come out –
BK Stop, stop,
DB Anyway –
BK Stop, Stop Stop. He had the floods on in Townsville. And these weren’t cattle dying these were people dying from disease caused by the flooding. And one of the people related to our staff was in very serious trouble. I know a number of people in Townsville that got these desperate diseases. He also had two other situations with the fires down south so we had people hit by this, a very small number of people, might be 400 or 500 people, you know, the floods and fires, there’s 200,000 people living in Townsville. But when I went down and spoke to him, I pulled some heartstrings, and I suppose said some things that would not have been entirely proper, and I convinced him to come out here. Now the difference between him coming out here and not coming out here, if he doesn’t come out here we get two hundred million, if he does come out here –
DB – So you said Bob,
BK: Stop, stop
DB – No I think I am going to interrupt you at this point.
BK – Right
DB – You said you were instrumental in getting $2 billion, surely that’s not (true), How –
BK – I’m explaining that to you. I’m explaining it. I’m saying 200 –
DB – All you are saying is you met him.
BK No, please let me complete what I’m saying. What I said is that if I could get him to come out, it was my belief we’d get a thousand million, and if I couldn’t get him to come out here we’d get two hundred million and I reminded him his family, the Gilmores part came from out here, Dame Mary Gilmore is the great-aunt and he worked out here as a young bloke . But he sees these people with their suffering and the massive numbers of cattle dead. It will be of enormous benefit. That’s what we want from our Prime Minister-
DB Nobody’s arguing –
BK – That they care about people –
DB – The Mayors of the area have done as much as you have
BK Absolute rubbish. Absolute rubbish. They had absolutely nothing to do with it. I walked in to see him, demanding to see him, because I was in a position I could demand and he said no he couldn’t go. And he didn’t have to explain to me. He’s got mobs of Liberals trying to stab him in the back, he is trying to pull the party together to go into an election, he’s got the ALP savaging him from across there, he’s got the fires down there where hundreds of thousands live, up in Townsville there’s 200,000 people with this dreadful flooding and people dying in the aftermath. Half a million cattle compared to those things, probably not so serious. So I pulled the heartstrings and in 25 minutes I convinced him to go there. The mayors had absolutely nothing to do with it. Two of them hate me with a pathological hatred, they’re entitled to, because my figures shamed their figures.and they’re entitled to hate me and they hate me.
DB Bob –
BK They had nothing to do with him going up there.
DB You say there was no-one else involved. Nonetheless this was the cattle industry which was extremely important to North West Queensland which was on its last legs because we had half a million cattle dead, he understood, and everyone understood, that you had to do something, and something large and whether you were there or not he was going to do that.
BK Derek, you know nothing about politics and the way that it works, absolutely nothing, my friend. And you can rave on to your heart’s content and be the mouthpiece for a couple of mayors, and we’ll judge them upon their performance. We had a flood in which we lost half a million cattle. The southern two-thirds of Queensland have had a drought in which they have lost almost similar figures. They have got nothing and my area has got two thousand million. Now what is the difference, they’ve got a dozen mayors down there who make two mayors up here look like idiots. Complete non-performing monkeys compared with what you’ve got down there. Well not many of them are monkeys but compared to them they do not rate. Now, there were 12-15 mayors fighting the battle down there, they got nothing so how come we got it? I’ll tell you how we got it because my personal friendship and support and good rapport I have with the Prime Minister and because, infinitely more importantly I had the leverage.I had the power. I had the balance of power.
DB Well –
BK And I used it ruthlessly. I expected to get two hundred million. The minute I knew he was going, Derek, I thought I’d get a thousand million and we got two thousand million. And if I wasn’t there, you wouldn’t have got it. And you can say what you bloody well like but I’ve got 50 years of experience standing behind my statements you’ve got no experience at all standing behind yours.
DB – Okay…
BK Except as a journalist.
DB Okay well we’ll move on. I’m not on the ballot paper, Bob, but, you know, the locals mayors, I’m talking about the six north west mayors (Editors note 1: nine actually) who put one a six point plan that (shows) we’ve been shamefully neglected now you’ve been the MP in this area for over 20 years, haven’t you been asleep at the wheel if that’s the problem? The fact we’ve got no services, bad infrastructure, poor transport, poor telecommunications –
BK – Does this area include Hughenden?
DB It doesn’t (editor’s note 2, it does, and I later apologised for my mistake to Mr Katter)
BK It doesn’t include Hughenden alright, The Hann hwy got the first federal government special allocation for a special road to my knowledge in Australian history. I did not believe I had a tinker’s chance in hell of getting that highway but we got it. Now, I got two thousand million in assistance, I’m the member of parliament for the area, even if I had nothing to do with it but I’m the MP when it came so my good luck. But it was not good luck. My chief of staff was at the meeting and she’ll give you a statutory declaration that when we went to the PM, he said he couldn’t do that and I knew he’d say that because I knew his situation and I didn’t think it was unreasonable and we sat down and discussed what would convince him.
Derek – Bob,with all due respect the Hann Hwy is not part of this area (editor’s note 3, it is. See note 2).
BK The Hann Hwy is Georgetown –
DB – I’m talking about Mount Isa, about Cloncurry, I am talking about Normanton, Burketown, Julia Creek.
BK – Right-o, let’s go further west. You of all people Derek know the delicate situation that we had here concerning one of the mines and I have to choose my words very carefully. CopperString is worth $45m benefit to just one mining operation in this area.
DB – That’s if it comes off Bob
BK – And
DB – It hasn’t been delivered yet
DB I’m talking about what you you done in 26 –
BK and. And –
DB – years you’ve been an MP?
BK Will you shut up and listen to me for a minute
DB I have been listening to you all along
BK I’m losing my cool here, right? I’m not allowed to complete a sentence. You cut me short when I was talking about Scott Morrison and getting two thousand million
DB Bob –
BK And that’s nothing for the area
DB Bob, that’s one of the issues that people have with you, you go on –
BK It’s a very simple proposition. You said to me, what had I done for the area?
BK Well I got the Prime Minister to come out here and he gave us two thousand million
DB He didn’t come out to Mount Isa.
BK Aw, well. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. He didn’t come out to Mount Isa? Well, I didn’t know Mount Isa had any dead cattle
DB Mount Isa is the heart of this area. With 20,000 people. It’s gone from 30,000 to 20,000 in the last 20 years under your watch, Bob.
BK Who’s fault is that? No, no I’m asking you whose fault? I’m asking you the question you can answer it or say no I’m not going to answer it. Who’s fault is it?
DB – I guess its, I’m not on the ballot paper Bob, you know, it doesn’t matter what I think whose fault it is. I’m asking you whose fault it is.
BK I can tell you exactly whose fault it is.
DB Tell me then
BK It was Tony McGrady, the Mines Minister
DB – So you are blaming the state –
BK Who abolished, stop interrupting, who abolished the ban on fly in mining.I was the minister in 1990 (Editor’s note 4 Katter was mines minister until December 1989 when Labor won the state election). The town has 32,000 people then, the minute we lost the battle – there were huge meetings held there – 300 and 400 people at the meetings. We lost the battle, the state government had the power to allow fly in mining and the state government allowed fly in mining. It’s very simple. Now have we been able to get it back? No we haven’t and I feel and I think the criticism is valid that I as the federal member should have found some way to beat McGrady but his popularity here was twice mine so I have little chance of beating him here in Mount Isa. So he won, I lost, And this town lost. We lost (to) fly in mining. You are well aware of the letter I wrote to the paper when McGrady, one of his spokesmen, attacked Robbie Katter for removing one job in Cloncurry and I’d pointed out the jobs that he’d lost here. Well I’m sorry he won, I lost. But it wasn’t for the want of fighting. But you think you should vote for the bloke that took all the jobs away, or you should vote for the bloke that wants all the jobs here, that’s your choice.
DB Can we move on to another issue. People would say –
BK I want to answer your question. You asked me a question what have I done for this area. I don’t know because there is no specifics in the budget yet on how much money we have got in the greater Mount Isa Cloncurry area for the highway coming out from the coast, onto Tennant Creek, a couple of hundred million, I don’t know but I don’t know where they intend to spend it and I can’t get it out of them. I’ve had a number of meetings with Scott Buchholz the minister to plead the cause for all of these roads but I’ll be honest and said to you Chillagoe two three thousand people along that road, it’s still a dirt road, in our area they get 40-50 inch rainfall. That’s an appalling reflection upon me so I’ve got to fight for that and also the Flinders Hwy in my opinion is not bad between here and Cloncurry but the rest of it is falling to pieces and I’ve got to try and get some money in it but then I’ve got a one lane highway going to Normanton. You say the North West, well Normanton is the north west. And people are getting killed, one of my closest friends the mayor of Georgetown, not Georgetown the neighbouring shire got killed on it. (Editor’s note 5 he meant former Croydon mayor Jack Pickering) I was with him two weeks before he was killed. Obviously it is a very high priority for me. And I’ve got to go where I can get things to happen. But remember this, Hughenden irrigation is the prototype. It is the template. I would have never got Hughenden except in the context of getting Cloncurry, Normanton and Julia Creek. And Richmond has done a lot of good hard work. And getting all of those projects going which had to start somewhere. But Hughenden irrigation is as much about Cloncurry and Richmond as it is about Hughenden. It is a program for the development of the water resources of North West Queensland, if you like, I like to say the Far West, the Mid West and the Gulf.
DB One of the issues raised and it came really up at the top of the list when it came to election issues of our readers was the high cost of flights. You don’t seem to have done anything in that regard, Bob?
BK: I have had seven meetings called with the AWU in Townsville. Now, he wouldn’t give me the meeting.
DB Who wouldn’t?
BK, the AWU boss. I cannot do this without the power of the unions behind me and the AWU is the major union whether I like it or not, and I’m a member of the CFMEU so they are not particularly friendly towards me but I have to work with them, he comes from Mount Isa the senior boss. But I eventually got a meeting the sixth meeting that we called but he wouldn’t go to the meetings. The sixth one we agreed to go to the attend and he didnt attend so I went around twice to AWU HQ and they said he wasn’t there. So there was a seventh attempt. Now Robbie Katter believes he’s got a way of doing things differently – that is not the way I want to do it – he believes we can get another operator in here at a reasonable price. I believe we have to call for tenders and it cannot be done without the cooperation, and I had some initial discussion with the mayor (of Mount Isa) a fair while ago now but I don’t want to be going to her every 10 minutes about it because principally it’s my headache, I agree with you on that and I can tell you it’s not for the want of doing work on it. I have met with recently, and they did not disagree they could do the job for $400, there and back $500 to Townsville and also Robbie leans a bit more heavily on flights to Brisbane. But last time I spoke to him he said, ‘I’m beginning to think we are going to have to look at your approach’, so all I can say to you is that I agree with your criticism of myself, it hasn’t been done. It’s my fault and I accept that responsibility but I’ve got to say it is my belief, and I want to say this bluntly that I cannot do this unless I get the state government agreement, because most flights in and out are state government, unless I can get agreement of the major mining operations there because we’ve got to guarantee 72 percent uplift so you’ve got to be able to say that every flight on average has 72 percent of seats taken. I can’t do that without getting the mines and the state government to come in. It is my belief that that at the state election at the end of next year Robbie Katter and his team, the KAP will get the balance of power and he will be able to deliver the state government and if he’s able to deliver the state government I’m certain – not certain – I’m guardedly confident the mining companies will come in on it and I’m guardedly confident that we can get in under $600 return to Townsville. Now, I hope I don’t have to eat my words this time next year if I’m reelected but your criticism in this case is quite valid and I take it. You don’t get paid in my game for trying, you get paid for accomplishments. I’ve not accomplished it and I want to say bluntly unless I get the cooperation of the unions I will not be able to fulfill this. I do not have sufficient leverage to do that.
DB Bob, you’ve made a big deal out of your relationship with the prime minister Scott Morrison but all the polls seem to suggest Labor are going to win this election, you may lose that leverage?
BK I enjoy very good relationships with a number of senior ministers in the current government. I have a very good relationship, he’s still a very good friend of mine, with Kevin Rudd and also John Howard. I helped these people at various times. A person like myself in the position I’m in can be very helpful indeed.They can’t do things within their own party but I can do things for them from outside. Now I want to say I probably don’t enjoy good relationships with Bill Shorten comparable with my relationships with previous Labor PMs but I’ve got a lot of friends in the Labor party, a lot of friends, remember I’ve got a very close relationship with the CFMEU as I should have, I represent miners, people that work in the mines, and I should be, every MP should be close to their unions, they are good unions that represent their people and represent them properly, so I have a good relationship them and they are very powerful within the Labor Party so I’m not without teeth in the Labor party, so it’s a good question and a good criticism as well.
DB: Bob you don’t think you are too old for the job?
BK:: You know I’ve got the press ringing me saying you are the most energetic person running for parliament, where do you get the energy from. I don’t want –
DB Where do you get the energy from?
BK I dont want to put Robbie Katter down but he didnt get the best player for North Queensland and signed for the Cowboys and I 40 years older than him beat him over 25m a few weeks ago and he reckons I cheated so we had a rerun and I beat him again so I’m not doing too bad for 74 (Editors note 6, Bob turns 74 May 22 six days after the election) and an 80 hour week and a sinus condition and a breakdown of health, three days (indistinguishable) but obviously I’ve done it. But if you’ve worked an 80 hour week on average since Christmas you are going alright. And if you want to know where I am I am in Mount Isa today, I’m in Mareeba tomorrow and you know it gives me no joy to say this but Mareeba is now over 24,000 people and we are down below 20,000 here and this is my homeland and I take full responsibility but if the people of Australia vote for people that want to destroy us all I can do is fight like a tiger and threaten and my threats are not idle, not idle at all. I don’t want to tell you how I brought down a deputy prime minister or a premier or the most powerful person in the Labor Party or a prime minister, I’m not going to dwell on that but people know that is what I have done and fear is a very powerful weapon that I have, but that doesn’t mean I win all the time. My task has been to keep the mines open here and you might make very small beer of Copper String and you might say it’s never going to happen, well, people said that about Burdekin Falls Dam, people saying that even after Bjelke-Petersen announced it and they started work. All I can tell you the money has been budgeted in the budget for the amount of money that the planners and initiators and owners of the project have advised is all they need to move forward with the project. The project stands on its own merits. They just need the five million to complete the engineering work. That’s all they need. They get that, the project is going ahead.Now the mining companies involved have also informed that the project is going ahead. That’s the best I can do for you but I can tell you in this case I had to have I think four meetings with the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who I enjoy a very good relationship, but you know I like to think Tony Burke, I enjoy a very good relationship, Albanese I enjoy a very good relationship, there’s half a dozen on the Labor side. We don’t all like each other down there but you know there are people that like me on that side and on the other side and there are people that hate on both sides. Yeah all right.
DB: Bob, thank you very much for talking to the North West Star.
BK: Good call on your part