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How Bob Katter became a rogue voice in federal parliament

Bob Katter's son Robbie took over the lead of the KAP in 2020. (Supplied: Bob Katter)

It's known as Katter country.

More than twice the size of Victoria, stretching from north of Townsville to Cairns and out to the NT border, the federal electorate of Kennedy is home to a political dynasty dating back to the 1960s.

The vast electorate of Kennedy. (Supplied: Katter Australia Party)

The seat was held by Robert Cummin Katter (Bob Senior) from 1966 to 1990 and, on May 21, his son, Robert Bellarmine Katter (Bob Junior), is tipped to celebrate his 10th election win in the same seat.

It will be a big weekend for the man known for his love of Akubras and proclivity for brazen statements. 

If he wins, the soon-to-be 77-year-old will be one of the oldest politicians currently elected.

And, if Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese's fears emerge and voters deliver a hung parliament, Mr Katter and his Katter Australia Party (KAP) may also celebrate a new era of influence.

Bob Katter speaks in the House of Representatives. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Popularity of eccentric politicians 'on the rise'

Political analysts say the gloves-off, plain-speak style of mavericks like Mr Katter make them popular alternatives for voters disengaged with the two major parties.

"There is definitely increasing dissatisfaction with the two-party system in Australia, which means more voters are open to other alternatives," Lauren Rosewarne of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne said.

"As global events like COVID-19 and international conflicts increase disparities between the rich and poor, I think you're going to see a rise in the popularity of these maverick characters."

Maverick characters like Bob Katter are an attractive option for voters disengaged with politics, analysts say. (Supplied: Bob Katter)

Never one to shy away from an outlandish statement, some of Mr Katter's more notorious comments have included a promise to "walk backwards to Bourke" if there were any homosexuals in northern Queensland.

Meanwhile, his segue from gay marriage to crocodiles during a 2017 media interview went viral.

Despite his unabashed conservatism, some voters, who have never considered Mr Katter, find themselves agreeing with some of his more progressive views.

An Indigenous woman at a Mount Isa health conference said she was a fan of his boots-on-the-ground approach despite not aligning with his policies.

Bob Katter 2016 Federal Election promo(Supplied: Bob Katter)

An unlikely career

Mr Katter comes from a pedigree of politicians.

The 1891 shearers' strike triggered the Katter family's involvement in politics. (Supplied: Queensland State Archives)

During the 1891 shearer's strike, the family aligned itself with the Australian Labor Party. Active unionist Bob Senior joined the party after World War II.

In the 1950s, Bob Senior left the Labor Party and joined the Country Party, standing for and winning the seat of Kennedy at the 1966 poll. He would win the seat a further nine times.

Bob Katter Junior, however, had no ambitions to follow his father into politics.

Rather, his dream was to run his grandfather's clothing businesses in Cloncurry — purchased when Carl Robert Katter, a Lebanese draper and Maronite Catholic, came to Australia during the gold rush.

Ramsay Street, Cloncurry, 1966. Bob Katter's dream was to own his family's clothing businesses in Cloncurry. (Supplied: Queensland State Archives)

"I got none of those things, so people who say you can do anything you want are bloody liars."

Bob Katter Senior (left) with his son Bob Katter Junior who never had a desire to follow his father into politics. (Supplied: Queensland State Archives)

'Paddling my own canoe'

It wasn't until the Labor Party's Gough Whitlam was elected prime minister in 1972 that a then-27-year-old Mr Katter began taking an interest in politics.

"[But] I suddenly found myself going to political meetings where there were passionate people who were keen to see Whitlam out."

In 1974, Mr Katter won the state seat of Flinders in north Queensland as a member of the National Party, which he held until 1992 before winning his father's former seat of Kennedy at the 1993 federal election.

The seat had been held briefly by Labor's Rob Hulls after the death of Bob Senior in 1990.

Bob Katter leaves the National Party in 2001(7:30)

In 2001, Bob Katter Junior split from the National Party, citing differences in economic and social policies, and continued to hold the Kennedy seat as an independent before forming the KAP in 2011.

Mr Katter, as the federal leader of his own party, in the Queensland election tally room in Brisbane in March 2012. (ABC News: Rosanna Ryan)

The Katter family

Since then, the Katter family has grown in size and influence.

Bob Junior married Brisbane socialite Susie O'Rourke in 1970. They have five children and 15 grandchildren.

"My mother was rapt an unskilled labourer was marrying a girl like Susie," he recalled.

Bob Katter and Brisbane socialite Susie O'Rourke were married in 1970. (Supplied: Bob Katter)
Bob Katter and Susie O'Rourke with their children Olivia, Mary Jane, Eliza, Caroline and Robbie. (Supplied: Bob Katter)

Mr Katter's only son, Robbie Katter, followed him into politics as the KAP member for Traeger in the Queensland Parliament.

Bob's daughter Eliza married Robert Nioa, the owner of Australia's largest private firearms supplier NIOA.

Meanwhile, Mr Katter's brother-in-law and nephew, John and Joseph O'Brien, have been closely involved with the Copper String 2.0 project — a 1,000km, high voltage link in the north and north west.

Cattle, renewables and Australian industry

The 76-year-old has long touted his party's focus on reversing gun laws, supporting agriculture, and growing Australian industries.

In the hung parliament of 2010, Mr Katter put 20 key policy points on the table during negotiations to crown either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott as PM.

They addressed everything from the formation of a National Energy Grid to investing in biofuel, regulation of the grocery sector, no carbon tax, no mining tax, parental assistance for stay-at-home mums, and water security.

While he prides himself on being a voice for outback Queensland, not everyone is a fan.

Bob Junior founded the Katter Australia Party on the promise of being a "voice for outback Queensland", but not every farmer is a fan. (Supplied: Bob Katter)

"I'm not keen on voting for Bob Katter. I'm not actually sure what benefit he is bringing to the community. From what I hear he is more aggressive than progressive and that really doesn't align with my values," Mount Isa local Peta Craig, 29, said.

Challenging the Katter stronghold

ALP candidate for Kennedy, Jason Brandon. (Supplied: Jason Brandon)

Standing between Mr Katter and a 10th election win are five other candidates including Bryce MacDonald for the LNP, independent Jen Sackley, Greens representative Jennifer Cox, Jason Brandon for the ALP, and Peter Campion for the United Australia Party (UAP).

Mr Brandon said attempting to unseat Mr Katter was "not an easy task" but believed the KAP had become too comfortable.

Meanwhile, LNP candidate Bryce MacDonald took aim at Mr Katter's age.

"I'm more youthful, I'm 54 years old. I've got plenty of energy left and I can drive Kennedy into the future," he said.

LNP candidate for Kennedy, Bryce MacDonald. (Supplied: Bryce MacDonald)

Passing the torch

In 2020, Mr Katter handed over the leadership of KAP to son Robbie marking a new era of the family's political dynasty.

But he said that shouldn't be interpreted as a sign his career was ending any time soon.

"I've got no right to retire — I'm not sick, I'm not lacking in energy, I'm at the height of my intellectual powers, which may not be very high, but how could I justify retiring?"

Young voters wants politicians to focus on the future
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Dive Deeper:
Queensland shows what happens when liberals desert the Liberal party
The state Liberal National party’s pursuit of conservative causes has contributed to it being all but banished from Brisbane
Motion on transgender woman playing sport splits Queensland Parliament
Katter's Australian Party introduced a motion in parliament, which gained the support of the LNP and One Nation, that says…
Queensland's Senate ballot includes several high-profile candidates, but it's unlikely all will secure a spot
A bevy of household names are Queensland candidates vying for a seat in the Senate, but they're unlikely to all…
State of the states: six politics experts take us around Australia in the final week of the campaign
In the first week of the campaign, we journeyed around the country with six politics experts to examine the key…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Liberals look to shore up Queensland
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says his government and the way he approaches his role will shift into another gear if…
What happens when a minor party or independent has the balance of power?
Whether a bill becomes law can sometimes come down to a single independent or party. It's called having the balance…
Get all your news in one place