Australia election: Malcolm Turnbull wins support of maverick MP

Mr Katter handling his Senate voting form at a polling booth last Saturday. The Queensland MP says he would not provide a "rubber stamp" for Mr Turnbull's Liberal-National Coalition but would agree to back him on crucial no-confidence and Budget meas
Mr Katter handling his Senate voting form at a polling booth last Saturday. The Queensland MP says he would not provide a "rubber stamp" for Mr Turnbull's Liberal-National Coalition but would agree to back him on crucial no-confidence and Budget measures.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared almost certain to remain leader after securing the backing of maverick MP Bob Katter, a staunch protectionist who wants to curb foreign investments, yesterday.

As the counting in Australia's knife-edge election continued, Mr Turnbull's ruling Liberal-National Coalition was on track to win at least 73 seats in the 150-member Lower House and could still gain a tiny parliamentary majority.

The Labor opposition was on 66 seats and there were five independents and six undecided.

To ensure he can form a minority government if he falls short of 76 seats, Mr Turnbull yesterday went to Queensland to meet Mr Katter, a rural independent who strongly opposes privatisation and sale of Australian farmland to foreigners.

 

Despite their different economic outlooks, Mr Katter is a staunch social conservative whose overall approach to policy is closer to the Coalition's than to Labor's.

Mr Katter said yesterday that he would not provide a "rubber stamp" for the Coalition but would agree to back Mr Turnbull on crucial no-confidence and Budget measures.

"It's guaranteed until I change my mind," Mr Katter said yesterday of his agreement with Mr Turnbull. But he noted that he backed Mr Turnbull "with no great enthusiasm".

The Queensland MP is head of the Katter's Australian Party, whose policies include restricting the number of skilled migrants, reserving shelf space at supermarkets for Australian-made goods and limiting the sale of farmland and public assets to foreigners.

Mr Turnbull, a former investment banker whose views on free trade are markedly different from Mr Katter's, said the discussions had been positive. "We will unite Parliament and, so far as we are able to, unite the nation." He has been holding discussions with other independents to try to shore up support.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said yesterday that he would seek to form a majority and work with the cross benches if there is a hung Parliament. "If Mr Turnbull is dragged across the line narrowly, his problems and Australia's problems are only just beginning."

Analysts believe a clear result for the Lower House may emerge today as vote-counting continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Turnbull wins support of maverick Aussie MP'. Print Edition | Subscribe