CLIVE PALMER’S United Australia Party was today shown up as the amateurish, unprofessional outfit it is, with news that parliamentary grub Peter Slipper had applied to join, was accepted, and then kicked out — in five hours. The episode destroys any credibility the UAP might pretend to claim.
As days in politics go, this one has been a farce, at least where Clive Palmer and his United Australia Party is concerned.
I have been highly critical of Palmer’s putative party in this column, and with good reason, and today it has returned the favour by proving why such criticism is valid.
The news late this afternoon that disgraced former Speaker and member for Fisher, Peter Slipper, had joined the UAP — and been accepted — was only a surprise insofar as I was stunned Palmer would or could tolerate Slipper’s presence in his organisation.
After all — as documented in a post by ABC election analyst Antony Green — Slipper is probably the biggest party-hopper in Australian political history; a six-time turncoat facing criminal charges over allegedly improper use of travel entitlements and a slew of other questions, Slipper probably isn’t the type of public face any party needs in 2013.
(Especially if they want to poll any votes among women).
Even so, this development is one that should never have been made public in the form it was; any political party operating on a remotely professional basis would have intercepted Slipper’s membership application, vetoed it, and then claimed adherence to internal policy if news of the abortive attempt by Slipper to join ever made it into the cold light of day.
Asked about Slipper’s membership of his party today, Palmer was reported in the Fairfax press as saying that he had been told by people within the party organisation that “they were talking (to Mr Slipper)” but he had not realised he had joined.
When questioned on whether he was happy at the news, however, he added: “I didn’t say that at all. I haven’t got a view on it.”
To be fair to Palmer, it’s likely he was caught on the hop to some extent; it seems clear the application process for Slipper has been expeditious, to say the least.
But even so, consider the sequence of events. This isn’t a good look.
- 4pm — news breaks that Slipper’s membership of the UAP has been approved.
- 4-9pm — a press and internet frenzy breaks out, with speculation centred on Slipper’s ability to provide the UAP with the single member of Parliament needed to qualify and be registered as a party with the Australian Electoral Commission.
- Somewhere in between — “Foundation Members” of the UAP convene, and “a majority vote unanimously” to “cease” Slipper’s UAP membership.
- 9pm — public confirmation is given that Slipper has been thrown out of the UAP.
It seems obvious that Slipper’s attempt to join the UAP has been on foot for a while; if this is indeed the case, then none of today’s events ought to have occurred.
The entire episode could and should have been summarily dealt with as described earlier; that is how a professional political party would have resolved it: quickly, cleanly, quietly, and without fanfare or unwanted publicity.
This column does not necessarily suggest that Palmer had any personal input into the approval of Slipper as a member of his party — quite the contrary.
But the matter raises some serious questions about Palmer’s UAP and its fitness to offer itself for elected service in the first place.
It suggests a party organisation that is inept, inefficient, unco-ordinated and thoroughly deficient where political tactics and strategy are concerned.
It raises questions over exactly who in Palmer’s organisation thought it appropriate to authorise as a party member a disgraced individual facing criminal charges, and whose track record of loyal service to each political organisation he has belonged to or allied with should raise substantial red flags wherever he might surface.
And whilst money is no obstacle for the UAP — Palmer has declared himself incorruptible on the basis that even a bribe of a billion dollars would be meaningless to him — today’s events clearly illustrate that whilst money is important to any political operation, it is no substitute for sound judgement, political acumen, and a bit of old-fashioned common sense.
We have discussed Palmer and his UAP at some length in this column since he officially announced his intention to form his own party; “delusional” is the word I have most regularly used to describe Palmer’s aim of being Prime Minister and of winning 100 seats in Parliament at his first tilt.
The Australian‘s Chris Kenny retweeted earlier tonight something from former Liberal Party strategist Mark Textor, with what he called a “four word insightful analysis” of today’s events with Peter Slipper and the UAP: “Rat Jumps On Titanic.”
At the time, preceding as it did Slipper’s expulsion, it was particularly apt.
In light of the developments since, however, I’m more inclined to say that Palmer’s party couldn’t organise a sea cruise if their lives depended on it.
Slipper’s membership application should never have been accepted by the UAP.
The fact it was is a potent signal to the electorate that whatever appeal the UAP might hold for wavering voters, the last thing it can be accused of is soundness of judgement.
And despite the fact the issue was dealt with speedily in the end, the damage is done; indeed, Slipper may well have sunk any prospect the UAP had of winning seats before the ship has even left the quay.
It underscores the politically lethal commodity Slipper has rightly become in his fall from public favour.
And it underlines the hard reality that anyone attempting to start a political party in Australia really is up against it, and that just because there is cash in the till there is never any guarantee of hitting paydirt.
UPDATE (1.10am, Sunday 12 May): Four hours after reports carrying the UAP’s statement that Slipper’s membership of their party had been terminated, Slipper is reported as saying he withdrew his application after being invited to join the UAP.
Readers can decide which side of the story is the right one; I am happy to publish the link to the later report of Slipper’s denial in the interests of balance.
Whichever way you look at it, though, it adds to the point that this isn’t a good look, and doesn’t paint the UAP in the rosiest or the most professional light.