Spare us Clive 2.0 Voters shouldn’t be fooled by new Palmer political bid
LETHBRIDGE’S VIEW ONE of the joys of my past week in far north Queensland has been the glorious weather and down-toearth people.
Somewhere along the way, I hope I have some FNQ DNA in my genes because I love a place where common sense is as free-flowing as cold beer. But as good as it is, there are a few imported pests it could do without, like cane toads and Victorian-born Clive Palmer.
Everywhere I looked, he was there, looming large from his garish yellow billboards, or bellowing out of the TV with ad after ad designed to resurrect his political career. Surely people couldn’t be stupid enough to fall for this twice, I said to myself. Or could they? After all, advertising works. If it didn’t, no one would do it because it costs money, and why waste money on something that produces no benefit?
Thanks to the $1 million a month he’s spending, Palmer will get votes if he runs again. But while advertising works, the product being advertised sometimes doesn’t … at least, that was my experience with Palmer as I sat in the parliamentary adviser’s box day after day and, as often as not, he didn’t bother to turn up.
First, some history. Palmer (pictured) was originally a “white-shoe brigade” Joh Bjelke-Petersen backer, and he was briefly the campaign director of the Queensland National Party. Opportunistic business deals, trading mineral rights, bluster, and the threat of lawsuits took him a long way. Just a few years ago, he was supposedly a billionaire, a controversial “national living treasure”, and even a professor, all the while running a (once successful) resort in Coolum and the Townsville nickel smelter.
He had a multimillion-dollar royalty stream from a Chinese-developed Pilbara iron ore mine, and was allegedly on the verge of opening a new coal province in central Queensland.
He was a big donor to the LNP – although usually promising more than he gave – until a spectacular falling out with premier Campbell Newman, his resignation from the LNP, and the creation of the Palmer United Party just months out from the 2013 federal election.
That Palmer is spending millions to chase votes again doesn’t surprise me – after all, it worked a treat in 2013. Not only did he get himself elected to the House of Representatives but, with roughly 5 per cent of the national vote, he also got three PUP senators, giving him the balance of power in the Upper House.
In those heady days, his sometime dining companions were then Abbott minister Malcolm Turnbull and the man Abbott removed as treasury chief, Martin Parkinson (who Turnbull later made his own departmental head once he became PM). You’ve got to wonder what they had in common, but then this was around the time Palmer started to block legislation to stall the 2014 Budget, leading to poor polls and a sense that the Government couldn’t get its agenda through. Of course, then it all went bad for Clive. PUP senators Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus defected. His Coolum resort became a fake dinosaur park and then closed. Worst of all, the nickel smelter shut, leaving some 800 people unemployed, with the Commonwealth taxpayer picking up the tab for $65 million in unpaid workers’ entitlements and the Government suing for repayment. Palmer left Parliament, but not before boasting that he’d brought down the Abbott government. Just as bankruptcy beckoned, a court case restored the Chinese royalties and – once again flush with cash – instead of repaying taxpayers for helping out his workers, his face is on dozens of billboards around the country and his selfpromoting ads are flooding the airways – no fewer than 800 ran last month on just one Sydney radio station alone. Now, some of what Palmer says, about scrapping the Paris Agreement and the incessant infighting of the political establishment, makes sense. It’s just that he’s the last guy with any moral standing to make these arguments.
Surely people haven’t forgotten the way Palmer fawned over Al Gore when he joined him at Parliament House in June 2014, pretending to be a climate change warrior in one of the weirdest press conferences I’ve ever seen.
Despite Abbott winning in a landslide, pledging to scrap the carbon tax only months earlier (and plenty of PUP voters backing that stance too), Palmer stood side by side with Gore and proposed a new emissions trading scheme, as well as a continuation of the damaging renewable energy target.
Get out of Paris now, says Palmer? Give us a break. That’s about as believable as the workers in Townsville getting a fair deal.
There’s been a decade of broken politics in Canberra, that’s for certain. Surely Australians deserve better than Clive Palmer 2.0. If someone who has made serious money wants to donate to a political party and chew the ear of politicians, fair enough, donations are part of political free speech. But there’s a world of difference between donating to a political party that you don’t control and buying votes for a party you own.
It’s my same complaint with militant unions and, to be honest, Turnbull’s multimillion-dollar donation to keep his job at the last election. But in Palmer’s case, there are more than enough threats to the public’s faith in our system without the Berlusconi-isation of Australian politics.