Forget all the analysis you have read about the election being decided in Western Sydney.
The big play is on in Queensland and it is happening this week.
A Katter/Rudd preference deal will be a game changer. And the mail I’ve received from sources across the political spectrum is that it’s on.
This is the scenario: Labor will send their senate preferences to Katter before the Greens. This will almost certainly ensure that James Blundell, Katter’s pro-gay marriage Queensland senate candidate, takes a seat in the red chamber.
In return, Katter will direct preferences to Labor in all lower house seats.
It’s a no-brainer for Kevin Rudd. The Greens might get a little miffed, but they are still going to preference Labor anyway – they’ve nowhere else to go.
Securing Katter’s vote will be a huge boost for a Prime Minister desperate to offset losses in other states. It could deliver Rudd seats in Queensland that were never in play before. In short, with opinion polls once more turning against Labor, the only way Kevin from Queensland will remain in power is if he secures this deal.
It’s also an attractive option for Bob Katter but it does contain risks for him. While almost guaranteeing a foothold in the senate, a deal could also alienate his conservative base and upset candidates who overwhelmingly want to see the back of Rudd.
But as parties must lodge candidate nominations tomorrow and senate preferences are not finalised until Saturday, jumpy Katter candidates will be locked in before they have a chance to protest.
So, what exactly would a deal with Katter mean for Rudd’s chances and the outcome for Australia on September 7?
A lot, is the answer.
Katter’s impact at the Queensland Election last year is not well understood and has been largely underestimated.
The fact is that Katter took votes from both sides of politics. But because it was not a ‘normal’ election and there was such a massive swing against Labor, Katter’s ability to play ‘Kingmaker’ has not been recognised.
It did not help him either that Queensland has optional preferential voting because it reduced his influence to decide the outcome.
Come September 7, these two factors will be gone. The swing against Labor will not be as strong and Katter’s preferences won’t exhaust – they will decide outcomes in key seats.
A lot of key seats.
In fact, if Katter preferences Rudd over Abbott, many safe LNP seats will come into play. That’s because the LNP’s primary vote actually went backwards in one in five seats at the Queensland Election. All of them were in regional areas, where traditional LNP voters turned to Katter and his big hat.
For instance, Herbert is a safe LNP seat centred over Townsville – Katter country.
At the Queensland Election, Katter received 27 per cent at the booths in this electorate. Many of those voters were previously LNP supporters but under a deal with Rudd, Katter would direct them to preference Labor.
It’s enough to change the outcome.
The same goes for Leichhardt, the electorate covering Far North Queensland. Katter picked up just over 19 per cent there. If his vote holds up and his how-to-vote cards put Labor above the LNP, Leichardt could fall too.
It’s the same story in other seats. In Dawson, Katter scored 22 per cent. It could also be an unexpected gain for Rudd.
And it would provide a huge boost to Labor’s chances in seats it needs to hold. Katter picked up 16 per cent in Blair and 17 per cent in Capricornia. Under a deal, these seats would stay in Labor hands.
Even in the seats closer to the capital, Katter would still have a say. In Forde, where Peter Beattie is now running, Katter picked up 10 per cent. If this goes to Labor, it is a sure gain for the Rudd campaign.
The mere possibility of this deal would send shivers through the Abbott camp.
It would mean that resources and time would need to be diverted from key battleground seats in other states to save electorates previously pencilled in as certain LNP victories.
That would give Rudd a chance to save a little more of the furniture across Australia. Especially if Katter’s vote went Labor’s way in other states too. Even though Katter’s vote outside Queensland is likely to be very low, it still has the potential to pull a per cent away from the Coalition’s primary vote and then direct a chunk of it to Labor via preferences. It could be crucial.
That is why this deal will make or break the election. If it’s on, Rudd still has a chance. If it’s not, it’s goodbye Kevin.
However, there remain two big uncertainties.
Firstly, despite Katter’s close connection and friendship with Rudd, nothing has been confirmed publicly.
Secondly, it’s by no means certain that Katter’s vote at the Queensland election will hold strong, or that voters will follow his how-to-vote cards.
The first question will be partially answered this Saturday. If Labor’s senate group voting ticket in Queensland puts Katter before the Greens, it’s a pretty sure sign Katter’s how-to-vote cards on election day will favour Rudd.
The second question won’t be answered until ballots are cast and counting starts.