WITH THE TRACK RECORD it “boasts,” it comes as no surprise Clive Palmer’s party is struggling to show it has the requisite 500 members to remain registered in Queensland; deregistration will derail the Palmer United Party’s campaign at the state election soon due, and damage its appeal to voters further afield. There are reports of highly questionable methods being used to meet the threshold. If proven, these should result in prosecutions.
I will confess at the outset that whilst I am across the broad requirements for the registration of political parties in Queensland, some of the finer details escape me; even so, a basic comprehension of these — combined with some plain, old-fashioned common sense — provides basis enough to comment on what appears likely to be the first wheel to break off Clive Palmer’s electoral cart, and if the reports if seriously underhand tactics to try to bolt it back on are true, then I think whomever is responsible for them should be prosecuted.
I have been reading a report in The Australian this morning — not, of course, Palmer’s favourite newspaper — and I will admit to being somewhat delighted to see that the singular lack of appeal of the Palmer United Party is about to see it scratched from contention, as a registered entity, for the state election all but due in Queensland.
According to The Australian (which describes the Palmer United Party as “desperate”), the mining baron’s political party is struggling to come up with a list of 500 bona fide members in Queensland by this coming Monday; failure to do so will see it deregistered in Queensland.
The consequences of this — for an outfit that seeks to usurp Queensland’s LNP and the Coalition parties generally — would be dire: the Palmer United Party would be unable to contest the state election as “a party,” with candidates’ party affiliations not listed on ballot papers, and severe restrictions on how it could advertise and promote itself to voters. In practice, and after a deregistration took effect, any Palmer team for the election would amount to little more than an assortment of independent candidates who would act in accordance with Palmer’s directions if any of them were elected to office.
What concerns me is the tactics apparently being used to show there are 500 members on the party’s books when, it can reasonably be inferred, there are not: The Australian details alleged attempts by Palmer’s party to claim members who have resigned from it as active, ongoing members.
It presents the case of one former member who resigned from the party, which acknowledged his resignation in writing in August; this individual has told the Oz that he had received an unsolicited email advising him that
“The party executive has reviewed the memberships for the party and have decided that any membership of a person residing in Queensland be renewed by resolution of the party executive,’’ it read. “Any outstanding membership fee is waived. We wish to advise that your name will be submitted to the Queensland Electoral Commission (sic) … Please email back, by close of business tomorrow Thursday 23rd October, if you do not wish your membership details to be submitted to the QEC.”
I should point out — at the risk of being branded a pedant — that the Electoral Commission of Queensland, or ECQ, isn’t even the statutory authority named in the email cited by The Australian‘s journalist, but where this moves from ostensible pedantry to a possible case of being too smart by half, in one fell swoop, is if this apparently innocent mistake on the part of whoever drafted the email is subsequently used as any kind of defence against charges of breaching Queensland’s Electoral Act.
And frankly — given the way his party has conducted itself ever since it managed to have four MPs elected to federal Parliament — it should surprise nobody if such a brazenly galling strategy is exactly what has been planned as a contingency.
A lot of the chickens are beginning to come home to roost where Clive Palmer’s party is concerned; for an outfit based in Queensland and orchestrated by a former National Party operative and adviser to Joh Bjelke-Petersen, I think the analogy is particularly apt.
The Palmer United Party, despite its revolutionary rhetoric and claims of “bringing Australians together,” only ever had two purposes: one, to utterly destroy Queensland’s LNP, its Premier in Campbell Newman, and to damage the Coalition in the rest of the country as extensively as it possibly could; and two, to provide a platform from which its founder could seek personal aggrandisement and a big head, whilst accruing political influence and power to further his business interests.
People, belatedly, are waking up to this, and whilst Palmer’s antics — the infamous “twerking” stunt an emblematic case in point — initially amused and piqued the interest of voters, subsequent outbursts like Palmer’s attack on Peta Credlin, his depiction of the Chinese as “mongrels and bastards,” or Jacqui Lambie’s helpful contribution to Foreign Affairs in suggesting Australia should launch a nuclear attack on China have started to send both the members of his party and potential voters alike running for the hills.
It’s no wonder Palmer is having trouble finding 500 paid-up members across the whole state of Queensland — ostensibly the bedrock of his party’s support — to keep the show going long enough to enable him to compete against the LNP at a state election, and to attempt to bloody or break the (political) nose of Campbell Newman as it was always explicitly intended to do.
If Palmer’s party is struck off Queensland’s Register of Political Parties — and I hope it is — then in addition to effectively ending its state election campaign before the date is even announced, the domino effect such a development will trigger will inflict heavy collateral damage on the Palmer United Party across the country even if it remains officially registered in other jurisdictions and federally.
Any party that cannot maintain its official registration invariably ends up extinct, and it would be a beneficial development indeed in terms of the national interest if a disqualification from registration in Queensland were to signal the beginning of the end for the Palmer United Party nationally: an odious entity whose objectives are based on wrecking and smashing and damaging as much as it can, that few people will miss when it is gone.
With the party having also missed the deadline to register itself as “a party” for the NSW state election due in March, the failure to obtain similar registration in Queensland would compound the distinctly amateurish appearance the Palmer United Party exudes.
That said, I make two further points this morning.
One, if official investigations can substantiate that resigned and/or lapsed members of the Palmer United Party are being given ultimatums to either resign a second time or accept a free arbitrary party membership for the purposes of evading the requirements of the Electoral Act in Queensland, then the person or persons responsible for these and any similar strategies being used to artificially produce 500 members to satisfy the ECQ can and should be prosecuted.
Electoral fraud, in all its insidious forms, is no trifling matter; the law is the law, and when it comes to the vagaries of functional and democratic elections, fixed requirements are not set down or legislated in jest. The inclusion of names of members who have declined to remain within the Palmer United Party — especially those who have submitted their resignations in writing, as opposed to simply allowing their memberships to lapse — is, on a common sense reading, fraudulent. It should be treated accordingly at law, and the book thrown at its perpetrators.
And two, the political environment in Queensland and its imminent state election are matters we have discussed at great length in this column, and most recently with regard to the mess the LNP seems determined to make of the (appropriate) disendorsement of Moggill MP Bruce Flegg; and whilst I have been consistently saying the LNP faces the strong possibility of squandering its record election victory three years ago and becoming the second one-term conservative government in Queensland in 20 years, one can never say “never” either, when it comes to all things political.
The deregistration of the Palmer United Party in Queensland, if it occurs, would provide Campbell Newman’s government with an unexpected circuit breaker and, potentially, an election-winning opportunity; even with recent polls showing the likely PUP vote in a Queensland state election falling, the accepted wisdom of commentators and observers broadly has to date been that it would nonetheless score at least 12-15% of the statewide vote.
Prevented from contesting the election as “a party,” that 12-15% suddenly goes up for grabs.
If the party is struck off the register by the ECQ next week, Premier Newman could do a hell of a lot worse than to get in his car, drive out to Government House in Bardon, and immediately advise a state election for Saturday 29 November: the earliest possible date an election called either this Monday or Tuesday could be held.
Such an election would force voters inclined to dalliance with Palmer (who mostly come from the LNP pile anyway) to make a hard decision: return grudgingly to the LNP and vote for Newman, or really register the protest vote against the LNP they intended to cast for Palmer candidates, and vote Labor instead.
There is no guarantee such a strategy would break the LNP’s way; after all, happy voters don’t flirt with lunatic minority parties for the hell of it. But it would put the question the LNP wants to campaign on — lingering public resentment and doubt toward the party voters threw out of office three years ago — at the centre of the state election campaign, which it has struggled, under the weight of its present troubles, to do up until now.
And it would deny the ALP any time to recalibrate its own campaign; Labor’s chances of winning the state election in Queensland, whilst a stretch, have been increasingly realistic this year. But they are almost entirely dependent on harvesting a significant flow of preferences from the Palmer United Party, and with this option denied to the ALP, a snap election would prevent it from devising any meaningful alternative strategy.
It might not save Newman in his own seat; even under these conditions I would still expect Ashgrove to fall to Labor. But an immediate election to capitalise on the disqualification of Palmer’s party, properly handled and executed like lightning, could well save his government, and many more of its MPs who would otherwise be stonily staring down defeat.
Should the LNP prevail at a state election due to the implosion of the Palmer United Party — an outfit designed to destroy it — it would be a tasty irony indeed.
And if all of this came to pass, perhaps Newman could be shoehorned into Moggill after all: the LNP would need a Moggill candidate immediately, and the luxury of persisting with Christian Rowan as a replacement for Bruce Flegg might have to be abandoned. If his transfer to Moggill were to occur, and Newman was re-elected as Premier at a second consecutive state election, then the entire purpose of Palmer’s foray into politics in the first place — and the millions of dollars he has spent on it — would have been for nothing.
And that, to be blunt, is exactly the return he deserves on his “investment.”