Spare us Clive 2.0 Vot­ers shouldn’t be fooled by new Palmer po­lit­i­cal bid

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS -

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.

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