Loyalty doesn’t matter for Parliament’s party hoppers
I remember an MP saying to me once that we were due for a death of an MP or Senator. We hadn’t had a death for a while, and statistically we were due one.
I couldn’t help but think that we were due the defection of an MP, when I heard about Ray Hopper jumping ship. There hadn’t been a defection since Peter Slipper up here and statistically it was always going to happen.
Ray Hopper is the state MP for Condamine, which is the area out the back of Toowoomba. He was elected to Parliament as an independent – a dairy farmer who made his name at the local dairy cooperative, and prior to that a meatworker who was very active in the Meatworkers Union.
In 2001, Hopper joined the Nationals, with whom he stayed until Saturday when he went to Bob Katter’s Australian Party.
It has become clear that Bob Katter has a formula for building his party in Parliament, and it has nothing to do with solid grassroots campaigning or electioneering. Katter likes to recruit from parliamentary ranks.
In fact, there is an eerie echo of Bob Katter Sr here, which makes me wonder whether Katter has some Freudian issues.
Katter Sr started as a union activist in Brisbane and during the turmoil in the ALP in the 1950s he left and joined the Country Party, going on to be preselected for the federal seat of Kennedy.
But they say Katter Sr, despite being patronised by the Country Party (and later National Party), given the support and resources to run for and win the federal seat of Kennedy, always considered himself a Labor man.
With that type of role model, it’s not surprising that Bob Katter Jr had the same sense of loyalty. As soon as John Howard started to say “no”, Katter Jr went out on his own.
Peter Slipper had the same ideas about loyalty. He started with the Nationals, went to the Liberals and then became an independent. If he had even the slightest hint of a union background, I believe Katter Jr would be knocking on his door tomorrow.
To prove the old saying true, that “birds of a feather flock together”, Ray Hopper has shown that he’s out, he’s in, and he’s out again. Hopper’s the name, nominative determinism has done the rest.
I don’t believe that Hopper was ever a true independent. He was elected in 2001, and since then he’s made 307 speeches to Parliament. This is an average of 28 a year.
Compare Ray with Liz Cunningham, who since being elected in 1995 has made 1089 speeches – or an average of 68 speeches a year.
Liz Cunningham doesn’t have the support of a party, and yes she does tend to become (in her words) a “one woman house of review” around budget time. But she started as an independent, and she has remained an independent.
She doesn’t have the luxury of an issues specific policy officer to provide her with the answers. She has to do this work herself.
When the Nationals wooed Ray Hopper to join the party, they thought they were doing the right thing by getting Hopper in the tent. Only in hindsight, with his weekend defection now out in the open, can those people appreciate how wrong they were.
Particularly considering the fact that the Nats lost a loyal and capable member of Parliament, Stuart Copeland, in the redistribution prior to the 2009 election.
I met Copeland once at a conference in the 1990s, when he was the state president of the Young Nats and vice president of the Federal Young Nats. At the time he was touted by many young Nats from New South Wales as being a genuine talent to watch in the future. I think they wanted him for themselves.
Copeland was elected to the seat of Cunningham in 2001 as a National Party member. He was the person who raised Jayant Patel in Parliament, and the person who, in a public hearing about the issue of overseas trained doctors, questioned Gordon Nuttall, who lied to the committee.
When Stuart’s seat of Cunningham was abolished in 2009, he was blocked from running for preselection in the new seat of Condamine on a technicality. He ran as an independent, but didn’t win.
The tragedy of this rule is that the Nationals lost a truly excellent MP and a talented politician, and got the time serving Ray Hopper instead.
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