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.
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.