Bob Katter as Queensland Aboriginal Affairs Minister

Discussion of the three rural independents has given little attention to their past political records apart from them all having been once members of the National Party. Bob Katter is the only former minister. He served in the Queensland National Party governments of 1983 to 1989. These were single-party government formed after the coalition with the Liberal Party broke up in 1983 after the Liberals choose Terry White (now a pharmacy entrepreneur) as leader and the Nationals refused to continue the coalition under his leadership of the Liberals.  Katter’s most significant role was as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs from 1983 to 1987 and as Minister for Community Services 1987-89 (this Department took over responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs).This is discussed in Rosalind Kidd’s The Way We Civilise. As Minister Katter balanced competing forces, one was the Federal Labor government very cautiously sympathetic to indigenous concerns but very reluctant to pick a fight with the Queensland government; indigenous communities deeply resentful of the paternalism and stultifying control exercised by the aboriginal affairs bureaucracy, and this bureaucracy itself  and in particular head of Department Pat Killoran who entirely controlled policy and enjoyed a close relation with Premier Bjelke-Petersen (also discussed by Lyndall Ryan in here), Killoran generated further controversy when he contested the Cape York electorate of Cook, which had a high indigenous population for the National Party in the 1983 Queensland election).  Katter was the first minister to stand up to Killoran shortly after becoming Minister he toured communities and was willing to talk to (or perhaps to talk at?)  some who the Department and previous ministers had dismissed as ‘radicals’, however he refused to discuss the government’s misleadingly entitled self-management legislation. This legislation claimed to remove aboriginal communities from the paternalistic control of the Department and to incorporate them as local governments. However under the legislation these new local governments continued  to be subject to far more control than normal local governments. A particular flash point was wages, staff at aboriginal communities had been paid far below award rates. With unions talking legal action the government wavered on the issue but Katter resisted the pressure from Killoran to support below-award wages and complained that forces in the Department were seeking to sabotage self-management. Finally in 1986 Killoran was forced out of his position to briefly reappear as special advisor to Premier Bjelke-Peterson. However the state government refused to provide funds to the new councils to enable them to keep on staff over the shift to award rates, revenue producing enterprises such as the Cherbourg store and piggery remained under the control of the Department. Katter claimed that most communities had ‘highly inflated’ employment programs. Katter also followed the standard Queensland pattern of complaining about the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs exercising an excessive influence on Queensland aboriginals. However his genius for publicity led to a gushing Sixty Minutes portrayal.  Conclusions: Katter has a very high opinion of his own ability and his ability to  good and a reluctance to accept advice or criticism of his conduct although sometimes he was right to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>