The three independents who are likely to decide the government are notionally conservative and former members of the Nationals party. But underlying the negotiations with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott is a complex web of clashes, favours and friendships which provide a fascinating subtext to the process.

Bob Katter is an old style Country Party politician who never forgave the Nationals for what he sees as their crime of selling out the bush.

He never much got along with the Nationals leadership, even when he was a member of the Howard government, but tensions were mostly kept in check while Tim Fischer was in charge.

Once Mr Fischer retired, however, Mr Katter fell out first with John Anderson, then with his successors Mark Vaile and Warren Truss.

Mr Katter holds Mr Truss responsible for the deregulation of the dairy industry.

The animosity between the men spilt over on election night when Mr Truss called Mr Katter an "unreliable parliamentarian" and Mr Katter responded that he felt "attacked".

But Mr Katter has a good relationship with fellow Queenslanders Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd, and he quite likes Julia Gillard too.

Tony Windsor's gripe against the Nats had its genesis in 2001, when, as the preferred candidate for the NSW seat of Tamworth, he was replaced at the last minute by the party over a drink-driving allegation. Windsor ran anyway, as an independent, and won.

Barnaby Joyce is a lightning rod for both men. Mr Windsor called him a "fool" on live TV on election night when Mr Joyce asked him who he would back.

Rob Oakeshott's feelings towards the Nationals don't run with such intensity, though he did resign from the party in 2002 when he was a NSW State MP for Port Macquarie.

He ran as an independent for Lyne in the 2008 by-election.

He won with 63 per cent of the primary vote - and Labor didn't field a candidate. Canberra watchers suggest Mr Oakeshott owes Labor powerbroker Anthony Albanese for that one.

The West Australian

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