WITH THE PRIME conservative seat of Fairfax seemingly in the bag, Clive Palmer has — since Saturday’s election — continued the eccentric behaviour for which he has become known; whilst some of his arguments have merit, most don’t. His pronouncements and outbursts will quickly become tedious.
I have been keeping an eye on what Palmer has been saying and doing since Saturday, and I am far from impressed; it seems that having achieved a sliver of the political power he has insisted for months would fall his way, he is hellbent on picking all the fights he can.
Which, of course, is his prerogative.
There are two reports today that I want to look at that provide some insight into the way Palmer appears determined to operate, and we will come to those shortly.
It is apparent, however, that barring a huge surge in the LNP vote from postal and absentee votes, Palmer will win Fairfax; the electorate — based on the central and northern parts of the Sunshine Coast — is as traditional a patch of blue-ribbon, heartland conservative territory as you will find anywhere in the country.
Its loss will rankle the Liberal Party, and the merged LNP in Queensland in particular.
At the time of writing, Palmer remains nearly 1,400 votes ahead of the LNP candidate, Ted O’Brien, with over 80% of votes counted; it is quite possible his lead can be overturned as counting is finalised, but that prospect — regrettably — is receding.
Whether he wins or not, Palmer has launched an unprecedented attack on Australia’s electoral processes; as The Australian reported yesterday, he has declared there is “absolutely no way I will win based on voting irregularities and the security of the ballots,” which might provide him some cover if he loses, or he might — might — have a point.
As readers will see, the article from The Australian goes on to list, in detail, a number of concerns and grievances Palmer says he has issue with over the conduct of the election.
If his concerns are genuinely held, he should make a formal complaint to the Australian Electoral Commission, which in turn would be bound to investigate and to institute remedial action in response to any breaches it identifies.
But Australian politics has historically been remarkably corruption-free; to the extent misconduct or irregularities (deliberate, accidental or through oversight) occur, Australians can have confidence that the occasional instances of prosecutions for electoral fraud, court-ordered supplementary elections and so forth clean the bulk of them up.
Palmer, however, goes a step further, declaring that “if there were UN observers here, this would be regarded as an unfair election.”
It does rather seem like overkill.
Yet the same article records what can only be interpreted as an extraordinary threat of political blackmail (and any member/s of the administrative wing of Palmer’s party prepared to officially clarify this, in writing, can leave their details in a comment and I will contact them to facilitate this — their details will not be published without their consent).
The Australian reports — and I quote contemporaneously — that
(Palmer) says that if he fails to win Fairfax, the two members of his party bound for the Senate will block Tony Abbott’s policies unless electoral reform is promised…“We think it’s a corrupt system. Until that’s sorted out Abbott won’t be getting any legislation through the senate with our support,” Mr Palmer said.
In other words, if Palmer is defeated in Fairfax it will be on account of the “corrupt” system, not through the will of the people, and that if he is defeated, he will instruct his Senators to obstruct the Abbott government in the Senate.
I should point out that with primary support in Fairfax of just over a quarter of the votes cast, Palmer is somewhat fortunate to be in a position to contemplate being elected at all.
And this brings me to the second of the two articles I alluded to; one I have been “sitting” on since the day after the election. This report, from news.com.au, can be accessed here.
Some of the spin and theory propounded by Palmer in this report warrants rebuke.
It is interesting — albeit completely unsurprising — that Palmer is holding himself up as some kind of kingmaker to whom Tony Abbott should be grateful for winning the election.
Palmer — and this is an old story — stomped out of the merged LNP in Queensland when he couldn’t get it to do what he wanted, and set up the Palmer United Party to get candidates elected who would.
(If anyone doubts this, look at the Palmer promises on the abolition of Fringe Benefits Tax, cutting income tax, abolishing the mining and carbon taxes, et al — all of which would benefit Palmer’s companies if enacted).
Most of the votes Palmer’s party won on Saturday were drawn from the LNP; far from being responsible for Tony Abbott’s election win Palmer has, if anything, blunted it.
Assuming PUP’s support ends up at 6%, as Palmer says, his preferences cannot be said to have elected Abbott to office; all minor party preferences leak when distributed, and even assuming 80% of them went to the Coalition, that leaves 20% that ended up with the ALP.
Thus, the national ALP vote is at least 1.2% higher after preferences than it would have been had Palmer opted to butt out of conservative politics when he abandoned the LNP.
This means there are seats across the country, now on margins below about 1.3%, that have remained in Labor hands when they should have been won by the Coalition. Palmer’s PUP is directly responsible for these outcomes. And there is no shortage of seats, retained by Labor, in that category.
That said, many of the seats the Coalition won were secured either on primary votes above 50%, or on preference flows from other candidates that rendered anything that might have been forthcoming from Palmer technically redundant.
In other words, whilst there are tightly contested seats the Liberals and Nationals won in which PUP preferences may have been decisive, the reality is that of the 90 seats the Coalition looks likely to end up with, enough of them would have been secured anyway irrespective of Palmer and his PUP.
And far from enhancing the Coalition’s prospects in the Senate, the very presence of PUP has compromised its gains in that chamber: firstly by drawing off the Coalition’s votes, and secondly — again — through preference leakage.
On top of that, the two Senators likely to be elected on the PUP ticket, and Palmer himself in Fairfax, are direct reductions in the Coalition’s seat tallies in the upper and lower houses respectively.
How all of this makes Palmer responsible for Tony Abbott being elected is beyond me.
Don’t get me wrong, Palmer seems likeable enough; I have no issue with him personally.
Even so, these latest events simply continue the pattern of controversial and/or odd public pronouncements that simply don’t withstand scrutiny.
A lot of people — understandably awed by the influx of minor party candidates to the Senate — seem to have lost sight of the fact that all of these Senators, including Palmer’s, are there for six years, not three.
If they really are of a mind to be wreckers, they will act as such for a very long time.
And Palmer himself, if elected in Fairfax, will no doubt be viewed with amusement and consternation in equal measure, even by those who take him seriously.
The fact is that Australia is bereft of larger-than-life figures; the days of the outspoken larrikin in Parliament are gone, and to that extent alone Palmer is refreshing.
Even so, if his comments and commentary prior to and since the election are a reliable indicator of what he is likely to contribute over a period of years of active engagement, a great many people will grow very tired of him, and very quickly.