Sick Senate: Motoring Party Farce Plays Into Palmer’s Hands

JUST HOW AMATEURISH Australia’s newly-minted minor parties are has been graphically illustrated by the so-called Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party — which, curiously, backs the carbon tax — and whose minions seems too busy trying to sack each other to seriously concern themselves with the business of politics and government. The only winner can be Clive Palmer, whose party would almost certainly admit an additional Senator to its ranks.

Yet again, it seems we are spending too much time talking about Clive Palmer in this column, although with recent events centred on him to what I can only describe as an unhealthy extent — and very much by his own design in many respects — it seems we’re doomed to have to confront a grotesque blot on the political landscape for a while yet that would almost certainly not exist were it not for Palmer’s deep pockets and preparedness to spend on those trinkets that matter to him most.

His Palmer United Party, of course, is one of those.

But an obscure (and I would have thought ridiculous) sideshow has been playing out over the past few days involving the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, whose Senator, Ricky Muir — elected with half a percentage point of the vote in Victoria last year — has some kind of murky alliance with Palmer and his three Senators.

It reads like something from the handbook of what not to do on a university campus under the auspices of participating in student “politics.”

The AMEP’s Victorian branch — the only one to ever achieve electoral success, however ill-gotten, and the only one ever likely to do so — was “sacked” by the party’s “Central” branch after the election; the Victorian branch, however, like any rebellious infantile brat, refuses to acknowledge its parent’s edict, and has soldiered stoically onward.

Last week, the Victorian branch voted to disband itself, and for good measure, also revoked Muir’s membership of it. To find this a bit crass — that an organisation voting to erase its own existence would then seek to terminate someone’s membership of itself — is surely an understatement, to say the least.

It seems the now non-existent Victorian branch nonetheless wants the world to know that Muir is an “Independent” Senator, following the defunct branch’s vote to expel him; not to be outdone, it appears Muir remains in the AMEP fold through the “Central” branch, with the party’s founder — Queenslander Keith Littler — not only lined up as a continuing nemesis of the departed (but nonetheless vocal) Victorians, but also now in Senator Muir’s employ in his electorate office in Melbourne.

That employment arrangement came about after the sacking on Thursday of the so-called “preference whisperer,” Glenn Druery (to whom Muir arguably owes his tenure in Parliament in the first place); apparently, Druery refused to move to Melbourne as required by Muir. Littler, it seems, had no such qualms, and has relocated to Melbourne in his stead.

Another Muir staffer, the aptly named Susan Bloodworth, has quit the Senator’s Melbourne office in protest at Druery’s dismissal, which the Fairfax press is reporting was rather charmingly enacted via email. “You don’t get along with the staff,” Muir is quoted as advising Druery in his email to him.

Druery, for his part, has apparently minuted his best wishes to Muir.

Is anyone’s head spinning just yet?

This is the sort of thing that makes politics a laughing stock to many ordinary Australians, and it highlights the scope for egos and competing agendas to intersect with the realisation of parliamentary ambitions by those who are thoroughly unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with or discharge them.

That isn’t any kind of elitist sentiment, mind; I am a fervent believer that Parliaments should be constituted by people from a variety of walks of life.

Yet amateur hour is not the kind of event that should be played out after the votes have been tallied and the members elected, however dubiously that might have been in Muir’s case; and I would add that whilst I have little time for the nightmare machinations Druery’s activities have begun to throw up in proportionally elected chambers across the country, sacking anyone with half an ounce of genuine political nous is not the kind of luxury someone like Ricky Muir is in a position to be able to afford to indulge.

But this is no laughing matter, for as this plays out — and if Muir, indeed, parts company with the AMEP for good — then waiting in the wings is one Clive Palmer, with four MPs in total including himself, and requiring one more to qualify for party status — and for a slew of additional staffers at public expense as a consequence.

Muir has, to date, made utterances publicly to try to suggest he is independent of the Palmer United Party; that his alliance with Palmer is a loose one, and not binding; and that he will vote from issue to issue as he sees fit to do so.

It seems inconceivable, however, that the greenhorn Victorian Senator would withstand the pressure in Canberra for very long if stripped of his party bunting and forced to stand by himself as an Independent.

On the AMEP, I simply point out that this kind of farce is the logical and inevitable progression from a proportional voting system that can be manipulated to elect (literally) anyone, on however obscure a platform, and with (quite literally) virtually no electoral support whatsoever.

The election of Muir in itself is a travesty, and represents one of the strongest single arguments in favour of the abolition of proportional voting that has been seen for some time.

But the prospect of Palmer gaining his fifth MP — and with it, several additional staff — would be an unbridled outrage.

The idea that Palmer would suddenly qualify to inflict an additional cost of well over a million dollars in annual staffing entitlements on the public purse despite having comprehensively failed to secure the electoral support to mandate them is the sort of populist fury Palmer himself would stomp across the country professing pompous outrage about if anyone else were to be the beneficiary of it.

Whether Muir ends up in the PUP remains to be seen. But if the AMEP meets its demise in a collision with the proverbial karma bus, I’d put tens on exactly that scenario materialising.

If it does, the Coalition MPs who have failed to attack Palmer for fear of antagonising him (despite it doing them absolutely no good whatsoever to date) — and the ALP, the Communist Party Greens, and the Fairfax/ABC/Guardian press, who resolutely avoid subjecting Palmer to any kind of meaningful scrutiny, largely doing their jobs for them as he is — ought to be screaming from the rooftops in apoplexy about the hypocrisy and the opportunism of it all.

Alas, they will do nothing of the sort.

If it’s a joke at all, it’s a sick joke indeed. But you’d pay to be a fly on the wall at what passes for an AMEP branch meeting these days.