Now It’s Clive Palmer MP: Yet Another Argument For OPV

CLIVE PALMER has finally won the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax, beating Liberal candidate Ted O’Brien by 53 votes on a recount; the win is likely to be Palmer’s first and last, if his erratic behaviour to date is any guide, and is yet another argument in favour of the adoption of Optional Preferential Voting.

First things first: The Red And The Blue congratulates “Professor” Palmer on his belated victory in the federal election; the result may yet be overturned if a complaint is made and upheld in the Court of Disputed Returns, of course, but for now — winners are grinners, and Palmer has certainly won.

I don’t begrudge Palmer his moment of triumph, but a moment is all I can spare, because as far as I’m concerned Palmer hit the nail on the head when he mockingly told a reporter that he shouldn’t be in Parliament.

Readers can access that clip — embedded in a report on Palmer’s win from Sydney’s Daily Telegraphhere.

This column has had cause to be critical of Queensland’s merged Liberal-National Party in the past, notably during a public flaring of tensions along the old Liberal-National divide and some controversy over former state minister Bruce Flegg.

Yet I support the LNP, insofar as my continuing interest in Queensland politics is concerned, despite being vehemently opposed to the merger when it occurred: it’s one thing to get frustrated and to criticise, but it’s another thing altogether to stomp out in disgust and wilfully set up shop in opposition, because you can’t get what you want.

The potted version of the Palmer story goes something like this.

Having been around the then-National Party since the days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen — including a period as that party’s media director — Palmer, having accrued a fortune of uncertain scope, became the single biggest donor to the Nationals in Queensland: a practice that continued with the Queensland Coalition and later with the amalgamated LNP.

Soon after the thunderous LNP win in Queensland last year, Palmer walked out on the LNP in the wake of state government decisions that ran counter to his business interests.

Earlier this year, he set up the United Australia Party (hurriedly rebadged as the Palmer United Party when it emerged the name was already in use) with a prediction he would become Prime Minister of Australia and winning “100 seats in Parliament.”

Along the way, Palmer bought things; one of them was the Hyatt Regency Coolum Resort, which (according to the Sunshine Coast press) has caused great angst in the local community with poor standards and low occupancy rates hurting businesses that have traditionally depended on the resort for their lifeblood.

Along the way, a couple of disgruntled LNP MPs in Queensland agreed to sit under the Palmer banner in State Parliament, their ranks since being augmented by (at present) three Senators and Palmer himself in Canberra.

And he now arrives in Canberra with a policy position — one of many — to repeal the carbon tax and to ensure that the federal government refunds to businesses all monies they have paid in carbon tax bills to date.

It has been estimated in other media that Palmer’s companies would stand to reap a windfall of more than $6 million were this to occur.

Palmer has also demanded his PUP be provided with staffers and other resources in federal Parliament to which they are not entitled; he has brazenly threatened to ensure the Abbott government is unable to pass any legislation — “not a single bill” — until or unless this occurs.

Before and since his departure from the party, Palmer has repeatedly lashed out at the LNP; this time last year he was quoted saying of the state government that “never have such a bunch of crooks held office in Queensland” and accusing the state’s Treasurer, Tim Nicholls, of “cooking the books” to overstate Queensland’s net debt by some $54 billion.

Judged by his own aspirations and 100-seat target, Palmer’s political foray has been a failure; his fledgling outfit has won three Senate spots (one of which, in WA, hangs in the balance pending an investigation into 1400-odd lost votes) and one lower house seat — his own — by the skin of his teeth.

Since the election, the bluster and belligerent rhetoric has continued; the AEC was incompetent, the system corrupt, and a conspiracy being played out to deny him victory.

One of the things Palmer threatened to use his Senate numbers to bring government to a halt over was the issue of electoral reform: Tony Abbott had better deliver it, or else.

Now, however, his PUP will block electoral reform on the basis it could involve the introduction of Optional Preferential Voting (OPV), which would disadvantage his party at future elections.

And it remains to be seen, of course, whether Palmer holds good to his threat to challenge his own victory in Fairfax in the Court of Disputed Returns; I’ll bet tens that he doesn’t do it — but then again, when it comes to Clive Palmer, who’s to know?

Don’t get me wrong; I like Palmer, and find him quite amusing; it would actually be an interesting afternoon to have a couple of beers with him, methinks.

But like mates at a pub, having a bit of time for someone personally doesn’t automatically entitle them to support for Parliamentary service.

Palmer now says — in keeping with his crusade against the Queensland LNP — that he intends to damage Premier Campbell Newman with claims of corruption; this apparently came about during an interview with the ABC, in which he was asked whether he had evidence of “illegal payments” being made to LNP ministers.

Quoting from the Tele, he said that

“Wait for a while, I can’t give you all the news tonight, when I get into Parliament we can table, you can read it and you’ll love it – Campbell will love it, too…what I’ve said is I’ve got a certain amount of evidence, I don’t have conclusive evidence, but it’s in the public interest and we’ll put it out there…Goodbye Campbell Newman.”

I grew up in Queensland under a National Party we all knew was crook; this kind of thing is no trifling matter (NSW and WA readers will know — from the ICAC hearings this year and the WA Inc debacle respectively — something of the first-hand nature of this too).

Indeed, the endemic cronyism and systemic corruption that occurred under that National Party government was one of the reasons I was vehemently opposed to the state Liberals merging with the Nationals — even though I’d been living away from Queensland for ten years by the time it happened.

So if Palmer has “evidence” incriminating the state LNP, individual ministers, the Premier, or anyone else associated with Newman’s government, let him immediately hand it over to the Federal Police and/or Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission — whichever is the relevant jurisdiction — and get the investigation started as a matter of urgency.

On the other hand, if he doesn’t (and Palmer has said his “evidence” is inconclusive), then forget about tabling things in Parliament — under privilege, and with the immunity from prosecution it confers — and stop playing juvenile and vindictive games.

Whichever way you cut it, though, Palmer’s election in the seat of Fairfax is a great recommendation for OPV.

It isn’t as if his win is a resounding one; Palmer scored a mere 26.49% of the primary vote. You can see the AEC tables here.

It quickly becomes obvious that two-thirds of that primary vote was drawn from the Greens and the ALP — conservative Clive winning the votes of the Left — and that preferences from those parties actually elected him.

Three-quarters of his electorate cast a primary vote for someone else: as I have said before, this is an MP with less depth of support in his own back yard than a wading pool.

Somewhere amongst the bluster and hyperbole and bellicose rants Palmer has indulged in since it first seemed he might win the seat, he has championed reform of the federal voting system: I agree, and suggest the only reason he has for blocking it is the same one that will stop him challenging his own election in Court.

On an optional preferential vote the LNP would have easily retained the seat, and all the nonsense from Clive Palmer that we’ve seen since 7 September would be occurring somewhere removed from getting the job of governing Australia underway — if at all.

In any case, Palmer only has a 53 vote margin; losing half of those will wipe it out.

I don’t think Palmer has a snowball’s chance of hell of re-election in three years’ time — if he even seeks it — but based on the past six weeks generally and his promise of “evidence” against Newman’s government in particular, I don’t think he’d win a by-election now.

What do people think?

NSW Newspoll: 60-40 To O’Farrell; Food For Thought

JUST to add some spice to things — and to the wait for tomorrow night’s Newspoll — we have a NSW poll showing the O’Farrell government holding its 20 point lead after preferences; in a state set to haemorrhage seats to the federal Coalition, this is an ominous portent for the Gillard government.

In the most populous state in the country, with virtually a third of all seats in federal Parliament, a big loss of seats in NSW will signal the death knell of the present Labor government; a big loss of seats, however, is precisely what seems to be on the cards.

At the state level, Barry O’Farrell’s government continues to retain almost all of the support it recorded when elected two years ago, leading Labor 46-27 on primary votes, and by 60-40 when (optional) preferences are taken into account.

On the “preferred Premier” measure, it is fairly clear the ALP would be looking for a new leader (if it had, broadly speaking, any MPs); on this measure O’Farrell leads opposition leader John Robertson 48-19, which in effect means that the “undecided” vote is nearly twice as popular as Robertson is himself.

It’s pretty clear these sorts of numbers are being fuelled to some extent by the daily circus/freak show/horror story that is ICAC; the daily hearings into the activities of allegedly corrupt former Labor ministers is feeding an incessant stream of toxic headlines into the Sydney media, and with them passes Labor’s election hopes in NSW for perhaps at least another ten years.

Even so, O’Farrell’s is yet another conservative state government that has been subjected to vicious smear campaigns by the ALP, its operatives and associates; its poll numbers staggered initially before righting themselves to some extent last year, to the point O’Farrell’s huge majority would stay almost intact at a new election based on these figures.

It’s important to Gillard because just as she and her cronies are desperately searching for (and inventing) anything they believe will provide a circuit breaker in the run to this year’s federal election, NSW is probably going to be one of the areas more resistant to their efforts — despite being run at the state level by the Liberal Party for two years.

For starters, it’s Tony Abbott’s home state, where he holds an extremely safe North Shore electorate and has done for 20 years; I don’t think Labor’s fabricated “dirt” on Abbott holds much credibility at the best of times, but on his own home turf in Sydney, even less so.

Labor in recent years has relied on unpopular state Liberal regimes as a buttress to its federal strategies, and vice versa; where the regimes fail to offer fodder in this regard the ALP is only too happy to set its creative minds to work.

But in this instance, it’s arguable O’Farrell’s government hasn’t even lost any skin at all since its election in March 2011, such is its resilience in latest polling.

And far from offering fertile ground to create something of their own, Labor’s ongoing humiliation at ICAC — as senior former members of its ranks are hauled into the dock and interrogated — merely fills the arsenal of its opponents, and renders any “interesting material” it might come up with a commodity best left well away from the cold light of day.

Politics being what it is — and I’m thinking here of segues, symbols and allusions — the ICAC hearings also cast a nice pall over a myriad of allegations, pending or actively in progress, against several prominent figures in the federal ALP and/or persons very close to them.

All this comes as the Murdoch press last week ran a story on the ALP’s planned sandbagging operations for the coming federal poll; the problem here is that NSW was effectively subjected to the so-called sandbag in 2010, and the accelerating movement away from Labor in the Premier State since then has been rocketing.

There are at least a dozen Labor-held federal seats in NSW that are at serious risk of falling to the Coalition at the federal election later this year; these alone are enough to deliver Tony Abbott government with an 18-seat majority if the rest of Australia simply returns the same results as last time — and clearly, that isn’t going to happen.

I’m on the record as suggesting the Gillard government is terminal — unsalvageable — and whichever way you cut it, the Labor Party across Australia is a pitiful mess.

Even so, if you’re a political leader seemingly on a hiding to nothing, there are bad polls and then there are really bad polls.

“Everyone” is waiting to see what Newspoll reveals of federal voting intentions in 24 hours’ time, and I’m waiting for it too; but it’s surveys like this one that are occasionally missed.

The state Liberals in WA are recording numbers every bit as good as these two weeks out from a state election in which they may well bury Labor for a generation: those poll numbers, in a traditionally conservative state leaning in its preferred direction, are largely insignificant in the wider context.

This NSW Newspoll, however, probably offers a glimpse of what tomorrow night’s federal poll will show.

Either way, it almost certainly indicates NSW — federally — will be an absolute bloodbath for the Labor Party; should that eventuality come to pass, it’ll mean a hell of a lot of extra seats for Gillard to win, in hostile territory elsewhere, to offset it.