Amateurish Farce: Peter Slipper Joins — And Leaves — Palmer Party

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.

Palmer For PM, And A 100 Seat Win: The Delusion Continues

PUTATIVE Prime Ministerial candidate and mining billionaire Clive Palmer has resurfaced today, sharing more of his insights into the prospects of his United Australia Party at the coming election. Palmer says the UAP will win 100 seats.  I say he’s dreaming.

Unlike Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his lunar “Joh for PM” putsch that derailed John Howard’s election campaign in 1987, at least Clive Palmer isn’t talking about lighting bushfires that will burn across Australia and other acts of political arson.

But the more that’s revealed about Palmer’s grand plan to assume the duties of federal government, the greater the similarities between “Joh for PM” and the UAP become.

The Murdoch papers have been covering this fairly heavily this afternoon, so there’s a fair bit of what Palmer had to say on the record. It must have been a hell of a press conference.

His PR people issued a press release too, which corroborates much of what Palmer told the press when he faced reporters later in the day.

Noting that there are 226 seats in the Australian parliament — 150 in the House of Representatives and 76 in the Senate — Palmer was asked how many of these, realistically, his UAP could expect to win. “About 100. That’s what we’re aiming to do.”

Palmer went on to say that he expected the UAP to win “at least 10 to 15 seats in Queensland” — remember, there are 30 seats in the Sunshine State — and noted that his candidates “only” need to finish second on primary votes “if we get preferences from other parties to win.”

So I’m going to go through the rest of his grand predictions and announcements, for the benefit of readers. It will quickly become evident that these are based in fantasy.

Palmer says the UAP will win “at least” 100 seats across the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Dealing with the Senate first — where six states will elect six Senators each and the two territories two each, all by proportional voting — the UAP probably needs a Senate primary vote of at least 30% to be guaranteed two Senators in each state, and to have any reasonable prospect of picking one of the two spots up in each territory.

We’ll assume, for the sake of expediency, that this occurs, and to be generous we’ll give him three Senators, not two, in three of the states. Thus, Palmer’s UAP succeeds in getting 17 Senators elected (two more than the ALP did in 2010, with 35.8% of the vote).

This leaves 83 seats to secure in the House of Representatives.

Palmer has already said the UAP will win “at least” 10 to 15 seats in Queensland; he says the party will win all five of the federal electorates based on and around the Gold Coast, and a further two on the Sunshine Coast — a clean sweep of the conservatively inclined seaside tourist regions in the state’s south-east (and all at the Liberal Party’s expense).

Beyond this, his only elaboration is that the UAP will “win some very conservative rural seats.”

Which ones? Where? Even if his clean sweep of the Queensland south-east coast is accepted as a given (which this column, for the record, doesn’t), it still leaves another 76 seats to be secured from the remaining 143 in the House of Representatives for Palmer’s claims to hold water.

Despite the brouhaha Palmer allowed to occur last week in announcing “sitting MPs” who were defecting to the UAP — disgruntled state MPs in Queensland who have no bearing on federal politics — Palmer’s announcement of candidates for the federal election has thus far been dubious, to say the least.

To date, these have been confined to the five seats around the Gold Coast, plus Palmer himself; about the highest profile enjoyed by any of them is that of former Gold Coast city councillor Susie Douglas, who is also the wife of the turncoat LNP member for Gaven in the state’s Parliament, Alex Douglas.

Palmer, for his part, has declared he will stand in the vacant Liberal seat of Fairfax, based on Maroochydore; it is perhaps ironic that this is the electorate Bjelke-Petersen proposed to stand for in 1987 until his own lunatic assault on the Prime Ministership imploded.

That’s about it on the firm detail so far.

And on what is Palmer’s optimism predicated?

A poll, conducted by ninemsn, of 55,000 people “across Australia” which recorded 30 per cent of first preference votes from its respondents being allocated to the UAP.

There is no reference to which ninemsn poll this was, or to where the published results are able to be accessed.

And it conveniently ignores the fact that respondent-initiated participation in “reader polls” typically generates the least reliable and most unscientific “data” of all polling methods.

Further, Palmer points to a poll in the Gold Coast Bulletin, which “gave” the UAP a 40% primary vote. Where? In which seat or seats? And what was the survey methodology?

He claims, without anything offered to validate the contention, that his party also recorded 45% support in a poll in the Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher, currently held by former Speaker and general grub Peter Slipper — and again, no reference point is offered.

Beyond that, there are no candidates announced south of the Tweed River, and none north of Nambour; there remains no coherent UAP platform, nor specific policies that have been costed and published.

And despite his veritable wealth, Palmer’s party has no national party organisation, no support structure, lacks the rank-and-file membership required to run a campaign, and has no tangible or verifiable constituency within the electorate that is clamouring for a UAP government or for a Palmer Prime Ministership.

All the UAP has is Palmer’s daydreams.

And to put those — and the haul of “at least” 100-seats Palmer claims is realistic — into perspective, readers should bear this in mind.

In 2010, the Liberal-National Coalition recorded a primary vote in the House of Representatives of 43.6%, yielding 73 of 150 seats, and 38.5% in the Senate for 18 of the 40 spots contested — a total of 91 seats.

For Palmer to win 100 seats across both Houses in September, he’ll need to do better than the Coalition did last time when they nearly returned to office after one term in opposition.

And his UAP will need to overcome — quickly — the fact that all reputable published opinion polling is showing the Coalition doing considerably better this time around, both in terms of the level of support it is attracting as well as the number of seats it is likely to win.

Aside from attempting to wreak havoc (and revenge) on the LNP, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what Palmer is seeking to achieve in embarking on his UAP adventure.

He won’t win Fairfax — and readers can hold me to that as a prediction. 🙂

And — barring any formal preference exchange with the Bob Katter crowd — his UAP probably won’t win a single seat; even then, a preference exchange with Katter is as likely to advantage Katter as it is to work in Palmer’s favour.

At least Katter has a following, built up over decades — even if what their movement stands for is hopelessly outdated.

Still, Palmer has the endorsement of former One Nation identity and right-wing wacko, Pauline Hanson: lofty support indeed, given Hanson fails to record a percentage point of support in any credible opinion poll in the country these days.

Talking of polls, Essential’s came out this afternoon; it showed the Coalition gaining a point after preferences to lead Labor, 56-44; it failed to record any mention of support for Clive Palmer and/or the United Australia Party.

Newspoll is next, late tonight, and I suspect the story will be identical in this regard.

It’s a dream, it’s a delusion, but it isn’t going to happen. Palmer would be better served spending his time — and his money — on something, and somewhere, else.

Unabashed Arrogance Pantomime (UAP) A Self-Indulgent Red Herring

ECCENTRIC Queensland billionaire Clive Palmer is apparently proceeding with plans to establish his own political party in time to contest the looming federal election; this column believes Palmer’s plans are self-indulgent grandstanding at best, and an exercise in unabashed arrogance at worst.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what Palmer seeks to achieve in embarking on this latest adventure — not least considering not one policy has been articulated in the name of his political party — but it is equally difficult to see him garnering much public support.

News Limited papers broke the story earlier tonight that Palmer is proceeding with his threat to start a new party, apparently intending to revive the name of the United Australia Party: a non-Labor entity that existed between 1931 and 1946, in government for ten years and opposition for five, and which collapsed under the strain of competing egos, a strong Labor government, and weak organisational and policy structures.

There is some doubt over whether the exact name can be used, or whether “United” will instead become “Unite” or “Uniting.” For the purposes of this article, however, this consideration is irrelevant — we will simply refer to it as the “UAP.”

UAP might as well stand for “Unabashed Arrogance Pantomime.”

The history here is short, basic, and unsurprising; after a lifetime of membership of Queensland’s conservative parties (and direct service to the National Party in particular) Palmer ended up as the single biggest donor to the merged LNP that governs Queensland.

It is well-known and documented that after the LNP’s triumph at the state election in Queensland a little over a year ago, Palmer became embroiled in several high-profile arguments with the parliamentary and political wings of the LNP — even facing potential expulsion — and ultimately chose to resign from the party.

At the time, I said in this column that Palmer stomped out of the LNP because he couldn’t get what he wanted from it — an assessment not at all unique but, on balance, still valid.

(See here and here for past articles covering these events).

I also intimated that were he to follow through on his threat to establish a new party, it would draw little popular support and cost an inordinate amount of money for little result.

So far, the signs are not promising — although they do support the earlier analysis.

Palmer says that candidates from his party will stand in 127 of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, as well as in “all Senate seats” which, presumably, means a ticket of Senate candidates in each of the states and territories.

There is no mention of which seats are to be targeted; and aside from himself, no mention of who the candidates are or what their claims to elected office might be.

As I said earlier, there is not a single policy publicly attached to this new party: nobody knows what it purports to stand for, or what its objectives, however noble, may be.

On the subject of Palmer’s candidacy in particular, he seems determined to revisit the guessing game he indulged in last year, after declining to make good a threat to stand against Wayne Swan but refusing to specify which electorate he might contest — at the time, for the LNP.

Prospective Palmer voters are entitled to question him on this and to do so with deep and justifiable suspicion: will he commit to really representing their interests in Parliament, or are their electorates simply a vehicle to be used to transport him to Canberra?

There’s a big difference.

To date, there are three disgruntled Queensland state MPs — Ray Hopper, Carl Judge and Alex Douglas — who all resigned from the LNP last year and have loosely been associated with Palmer’s putative party; these MPs represent the total publicly tangible support proffered to Palmer in his UAP endeavour.

And that endeavour, if followed through, is likely to be delivered at a cost — a cost to the federal Coalition and its prospects and, ironically, providing a boost to those of the ALP.

It would be ironic because Palmer has made no bones about his contempt for the present government; indeed, it was he who described Treasurer Wayne Swan as an “intellectual pygmy” when he threatened to stand against Swan in his seat of Lilley, held by 3.2%, and always susceptible to the Liberals at elections producing large Coalition majorities.

The simple fact is that to the extent Palmer’s party draws any support, it is likely to come at the expense of the Liberals and Nationals; whether he likes it or not, the hard reality is that parties of the type Palmer seems to be creating are protest vehicles that cause trouble — and little else.

Queensland has already spawned one of these — Bob Katter’s Katter Australia Party, with its protectionist, ultra-nationalist and distinctly redneck populist policy themes.

That party draws most of its support from what would otherwise go to the Coalition; indeed, the LNP won 77 of 89 seats in Queensland last year with a primary vote of just 49%, with Katter’s crowd winning 18% — not all of which returned to the LNP in preferences under Queensland’s Optional Preferential Voting system.

A second party of this ilk would similarly drain votes from the mainstream conservative forces and — whilst taking votes — jeopardise the prospects of legitimate Coalition candidates in some marginal Labor electorates.

Where Palmer’s 127 seats lie is something we’ll have to wait and see.

But even if, for the sake of the argument, his candidates contest only in Queensland, the stakes are huge; 30 federal electorates (or 20% of the total federally) lie in Queensland, and the Coalition stands a good chance of winning most or all of them this year.

With Katter and Palmer drawing off Coalition support, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the door that potentially opens for Labor in the Sunshine State.

If Labor were to make net gains in Queensland, and win Melbourne and Denison back from the Greens and an independent respectively, to offset losses in NSW — and then hold its ground elsewhere — there is a real risk the Gillard government could be re-elected.

That means “intellectual pygmy” Wayne Swan remaining Treasurer.

It also means three more years of the worst and most spectacularly incompetent government Australia has ever seen.

And whilst the Katter party’s policies actually stand for something — even if the rest of the world moved on from what it stands for 30 or 40 years ago — Palmer has to date offered no vision, no over-arching theme, no compelling rally call to people to support him.

Palmer’s UAP would certainly not be wanting for cash. Even so, no policies, no platform, and (to date) no candidates a bit over four months from an election would suggest its prospects would be bleak.

It all sounds like a pantomime: an unabashed, arrogant pantomime designed to attract attention and the spotlight, but in reality almost certain to deliver nothing constructive or of any consequence whatsoever.

Except, perhaps, to offer the ALP a sliver of an opportunity to remain in office, and if Palmer is as committed to thwarting that outcome as his historical utterances suggest, he might do well to rethink his strategy.