Clive Palmer and his eponymous united party will be pivotal figures in Canberra over the next 3 years. Despite his claim that he is only interested in the good of the nation, how well equipped (and well intentioned) is Palmer for the role he will play in national affairs?
Later today, Clive Palmer will unveil how his Palmer United Party will vote on key elements of the budget, ahead of a meeting tomorrow with Prime Minister Tony Abbott to ‘discuss’ the budget’s passage through the Senate.
There will be no rhyme or reason to the decisions, other than what is best for PUP, as Palmer ruthlessly uses his party’s pivotal votes to build the popular support needed to bring the Campbell Newman government down at the upcoming Queensland state election.
Yes, that’s right, Palmer’s main game is Queensland, not Canberra. Palmer famously parted with the Liberal National Party, of which he was a generous donor and life member, after falling out with the Newman LNP government over arrangements for his coal interests in that state. Palmer has subsequently been accused by Premier Newman of trying to use his political donations to secure preferential treatment, and the matter is now before the courts.
After leaving the LNP, Palmer cobbled together a novelty party with the singular purpose of transforming voter dissatisfaction with the major parties into a vehicle for personal revenge against Newman.
Having created the party, bought the candidates, and thrown a medium-sized fortune into television advertising during the 2013 federal election and subsequent WA Senate election re-run, Palmer landed a decisive role in the Senate that will either consolidate or cruel his ultimate run for political dominance in Queensland.
It’s not enough to be throwing one’s weight around in Canberra of course – one must also be seen to be doing so.
Hence Palmer’s very own version of the Concours d’Elegance, in which he arrived at parliament in a different luxury car over a succession of days, to the delight of television camera crews and journalists who were looking for something, anything to add colour and movement to their political stories.
As a result, Palmer was duly reported (and featured on television screens across the country, including Queensland) as saving taxpayer dollars by eschewing the government-funded car that normally ferries parliamentarians to their place of work.
In short, Palmer is a master at securing the best free publicity that money can buy.
Free publicity is the motivation behind Palmer’s outlandish statements too, although such utterances run the risk of inviting observers to ponder where the buffoon ends and the canny politician begins.
Palmer’s attack on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, is a good case in point. His ill-informed and sexist use of Credlin to denunciate the Government’s paid parental leave scheme may have played well in the homes of the older, disaffected Liberal and National voters that are receptive to Palmer’s hokey style, but it struck a discordant note among the younger, more progressive political journalists in Canberra on whom Palmer is dependent for his high political profile.
In fact, the gloss may be starting to come off the Palmer cavalcade before it even rolls into the national capital. Media exposure of the Senators-elect who’ll comprise the PUP voting bloc has quickly shown them to be a motley crew of hard-to-control crusaders (in the case of Jacqui Lambie) and agonisingly inept ingénues (in the cases of Dio Wang and Ricky Muir). The remaining PUP Senator-to-be, Glenn Lazarus, continues to be as inscrutable as, well, a brick.
Any inclination by the media to dismiss Palmer and his MPs as political lightweights will be exacerbated by the growing realisation that the billionaire may well be as cunning as a shithouse rat but he’s also an economic illiterate. Palmer has done well to hide this deficiency to the extent that he has, but his budget reply last month and keynote speech to CEDA this week left no-one disabused of the fact.
This could prove to be a real issue for Professor Palmer, as Treasurer Hockey is wont to call the self-made man in an effort to emphasise Palmer’s lack of tertiary qualifications (and fondness of using the honorary title bestowed on him by the Bond University).
Economic literacy is a prerequisite for political credibility in Canberra, and the deliberate or accidental flaunting of ineptitude when it comes to economic matters can be a fast-track to political oblivion. Palmer’s massaging of economic truths in his federal election and WA Senate election advertisements was treated with some leniency by the media, given that most campaign advertising consists of rubbery facts and hyperbole.
But the pseudo-economics now being bandied about by Palmer as an alternative to the Abbott budget is variously misguided, fanciful or wrong. It should be of concern to all voters that Palmer’s economic ignorance, combined with his mercenary pursuit of the popular vote, will influence which budget measures will survive and which will be blocked in the Senate.
Perhaps a glimmer of this realisation is evident in the most recent Essential Poll, which reports that 26 per cent of respondents believe PUP holding the balance of power in the Senate will be good for Australia, while 39 per cent believe it will be bad.
The same poll also found that Palmer is consideredby voters to be arrogant, aggressive, erratic, out of touch with ordinary people, superficial and narrow minded.
Even so, Palmer remains in the box seat, manipulating the media, his MPs and even the Abbott government like so many marionettes.
Thanks to Palmer, our polity has come to this – dependent on the whims of a political trickster who is ultimately focused on little more than building a political army and arsenal to wreak sweet revenge on his opponents and detractors. With any luck, voters will have worked this out well before Palmer faces his next election.