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The three kingmakers

Nick Bryant | 08:27 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

Julia Gillard touched down in Canberra on her prime ministerial jet, hoping it wouldn't be the last time she gets to use it. Camera crews were also at Canberra airport to record the arrival of the three independent MPs who will determine this race: the once-obscure kingmakers who are now in the national spotlight.

I wonder how many times they have slipped in and out of the nation's capital without anyone paying them a blind bit of notice or even knowing who they are. Now Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are the talk of Australia.

There is a rich irony, of course. For the past five weeks the myopic focus has been on 20 marginal constituencies, many of which are to be found in the suburban fringes. Now voices from the bush, the outback and regional Australia have come to the fore.

They are an intriguing bunch.

Bob Katter from northern Queensland is a self-styled "Force from the North": a macho, straight-talking, no-nonsense sort of bloke, who appears to have stepped straight out of central casting. You can get a sense of that here, in a campaign advertisement, with impressive production values, which became something of a YouTube hit during the campaign.

Tony Windsor represents Tamworth in New South Wales, which is known as the centre of country and western music in Australia. As a state member in New South Wales, he helped prop up a conservative government. But that may not provide much of a form guide, because he clearly despises some of the leading lights in the Liberal/Nationals coalition - namely, Barnaby Joyce, the outspoken Nationals Senator. On national TV last night, he called Joyce a "fool" and "embarrassment".

Rob Oakeshott, arguably the most intriguing of the three, represents a seat in regional New South Wales. Like Tony Windsor and Bob Katter, the 40-year-old used to be a member of the National Party. But as with his fellow independents, the emphasis is on "used to be members". Again, that might not offer much of a form guide, because of the recriminations which surrounded their departure.

With the Greens likely to line up with Labor - though at a price - the focus is on these three independents, who have indicated they will form something of a bloc. The situation could be further complicated by the news from Western Australia that Tony Crook has beaten the Liberal incumbent Wilson "Ironbar" Tuckey, who is another of Canberra's more colourful characters.

The negotiation will play out over the next few days. My hunch is that we will not see an immediate resolution, especially while there are votes which remain uncounted.

More than 14 million people voted in this election, and the fate of this vast country now rests in the hands of three rather unpredictable kingmakers.

UPDATE: My apologies. In the first draft of this blog, written confessedly in a state of slight sleep deprivation, I said the Elvis festival was in Tamworth. it is, of course, in Parkes, as Stillgherrian pointed out.


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