PERHAPS BECAUSE it took eight days to offer, or because it didn’t cover the “threat” of a nuclear strike made by one of his brainless Senators, but a fawning apology from Clive Palmer to the Chinese ambassador to Australia over his reprehensible outburst on #QandA last week has elicited a rebuke. Bellicose eccentricity might seem like fun, but saying whatever pops into one’s head is a dangerous game. Whether Palmer comprehends this is unknown.
Clive Palmer had a big week last week, and for all the wrong reasons; he kicked off with his now-notorious outburst on the ABC’s #QandA programme on Monday night, which was followed two days later by the unbelievably idiotic suggestion from Palmer Senator Jacqui Lambie that Australia should acquire — and use — nuclear missiles against China in a pre-emptive act of “defence.”
Eight days after his initial outpouring of bile on #QandA (and after a veritable Who’s Who of Australia’s parliamentary and media cliques scrambled to try to limit the damage), Palmer saw fit on Monday to send an apology to the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Ma Zhaoxu. Readers can access this missive here, and all I can say is that the humble pie devoured in crafting it must have been a bitter meal indeed.
I don’t think there are very many grounds on which Palmer can be afforded forgiveness for his remarks.
His rantings on #QandA were, despite subsequent protestations to the contrary, very clearly aimed at China and its government; Palmer’s characterisation of Chinese “mongrels” and “bastards” were always going to deeply offend and perhaps provoke China’s leadership — crafted, as they were, by a prominent Australian MP with extensive business interests and dealings with China in his own right.
The fact they were made by an individual facing allegations of ripping them off and legal proceedings to pursue these would have exacerbated the slight.
From an Australian perspective, this episode has risked inflicting enormous (and potentially irreparable) damage to bilateral relations with China: not least of which has been to place the conclusion of a historic free trade deal with the Chinese at risk. It is fortunate, and to the credit of Abbott government figures such as Trade minister Andrew Robb and Foreign minister Julie Bishop, that all of these potential ramifications of national effect appear to have been averted.
The Chinese — to be sure — have drawn the distinction; the intemperate words of the one has not affected the interests of the many.
But ordinary Australians are entitled to remain exceedingly angry with Clive Palmer; not only has he severely jeopardised the national interest for the apparent pursuit of his own objectives, but he has finally shown — once and for all — that the careful construct of a rich eccentric who might be your cuddly old uncle, behind which he loves to hide, is nothing more than an illusion.
It remains to be seen whether this new reality, laid bare by his antics, is fully appreciated by those Australians inclined to continue to vote for him.
Maybe Palmer added insult to injury by seeking to downplay his remarks; his assertions (in the wake of being absolutely slammed across the country last Tuesday) that they applied only to one company with which he was mired in an acrimonious commercial dispute are disingenuous when reviewed against what he actually said on television the previous night (and for those who didn’t see it, the first of the links with this article contains a link to the episode of #QandA in question).
Maybe and perhaps entirely predictably, the brainless Lambie inflamed what was already a white-hot situation with her apparent advocacy of a nuclear strike against the “Communist Chinese” (as opposed to some other unknown variety of Chinese people) who, if not thus restrained, were certain to invade Australia at some unspecified future juncture.
Maybe the delay of more than a week in seeking to make amends for his contemptible proclamations irritated the Chinese.
And maybe — just maybe — the letter of apology itself inflamed things even further, switching seamlessly as it did from grovelling contrition to apparently jocular rapport building of the type that is hardly warranted in the circumstances.
For any or all of these reasons, it is unsurprising that Palmer’s apology was not expressly accepted; rather, it elicited a rant of its own, with the response of the ambassador making statements that can only be interpreted as a thinly veiled rebuke of Palmer for his utterances.
Obviously, I’m not going to pull His Excellency’s remarks apart line by line.
But the lofty assertions that “the Chinese people are never to be insulted” and that “slandering China will not gain support” should leave nobody in any doubt that no matter what Palmer might otherwise protest, his incendiary remarks were interpreted as an attack on China, its government, and its people — and not on a single company as he had sought to suggest.
Australia has been lucky this time; as noted earlier, it appears that the repercussions from this distasteful episode — if there are any — will be confined to Palmer himself. It has been a salutary illustration of the honour and “face” with which Asian countries conduct their business and political relations with others. As a high-profile Australian politician and businessman, Palmer’s antics in the matter serve as a warning to others, especially within the ranks of his own party — not an example.
Palmer’s penchant for saying whatever he likes — with nary a concern for the consequences — was also the subject of yesterday’s Editorial in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, which readers can peruse here.
Australian electors are entitled to certain standards of conduct from their elected representatives, and whether Clive Palmer and his band of miscreant Senators uphold those standards is a matter for each voter, on their own terms and in their own time, to resolve.
But in the final analysis, this grimy and aberrant episode appears to have done nothing to alter Palmer’s standard approach to his political dealings; yesterday he chose to announce to the media, rather than first inform the government, that his party was terminating negotiations over the $7 Medicare GP co-payment — and that under no circumstances would they revisit the issue.
For a man who insists on being taken at face value, it isn’t suggestive of an outfit operating in good faith.
This column believes that Australia will be well-served by the eventual defeat of Palmer and his minions; already, private LNP polling in his Queensland seat of Fairfax is said to show Palmer’s primary vote halving — and falling too far for him to be re-elected, even with the overwhelming preference flows he achieved from minor parties last year.
That defeat is to be eagerly anticipated and welcomed with relish when it eventuates.
But even if Palmer (and his minions) achieve no further electoral success, the country is stuck with three of his Senators with close to six remaining years on their terms in office, which means that even if Palmer himself is thrown out of Parliament by voters, others will continue to do his bidding for a long, long time to come.
The China debacle last week was a potent illustration of just how destructive Palmer has the potential to be. Regrettably, others may well follow.