26 April, 2013

Clive for Canberra? Why not?

Clive Palmer, the Queensland mining entrepreneur and until recently, major Liberal party donor announced yesterday that he is forming his own political party and wants to become the next prime minister.  The announcement has received derision from both major parties and their supporters but here’s my question:
Why not?

There are a lot of positive aspects to this.
For a start, comparisons are already being made with the Joh for PM campaign of 1987. In fact, it’s being referred to now as the “disastrous” Joh for PM campaign, which is nonsense. It was disastrous for John Howard.  It was great for Labor.  And for Bjelke-Petersen himself, it was neither here nor there.  For him it was just a massive ego trip which ultimately never became a real campaign anyway.  So if Palmer’s actual campaign manages to bugger up Tony Abbott’s then I’m all for it.

Lest people get the idea that this is going to be partisan, I’ve said before that I’m a swinging voter and I’ve also said I’d love to be able to vote against Labor this election, but I honestly believe an Abbott government would be dangerous.  Anything that mitigates that risk is something I see as a positive.

Palmer has said that the policies of his rebooted United Australia Party would be very similar to the Liberal Party’s.  That should be instantly attractive to people who naturally swing Liberal but can’t abide the race-to-the-bottom antics of Tony Abbott – and there are plenty of them around.  The major difference Palmer has laid out between his party and the two majors is treatment of indigenous people and asylum seekers.  That won’t be enough to counter the natural suspicion progressives have of the big business interests Palmer clearly represents, but it’s a start.

The most notable aspect of Palmer’s campaign is that it’s another massive rebuke of the Liberal party from someone who should be (and until very recently has been) a natural ally of the party and someone the Liberals would claim to represent.  If someone like Palmer, who was previously one of the Liberal party’s chief benefactors, has decided they’re not worth the money and that he could do a better job himself, then that should cause a rethink for anyone who was considering voting Liberal on the grounds of their economic management skills and business-friendliness.

What Palmer is really doing here is cutting out the middle-man.  Mum & Dad party donors may do so because they think it’s for the greater good, but when billionaires donate to parties, they want a return on their investment.  This means that they are buying influence over government or potential government.  If Palmer is prepared to bypass that system, put his policies to the people and be accountable to the people, then that is to be commended whether you agree with him or not.  More people who demand a say in the political process, from mining operators to talkback radio hosts to columnists to ’bloggers should do this.

I’m not here to cheer for Palmer – I’m sure I’ll be able to find lots to disagree with him on. I’m just trying to look beyond the knee-jerk, “he crazy,” reactions.  There’s little joy for Labor here.  The UAP will doubtlessly preference the Liberals and in the event that they end up holding the balance of power in the lower house, then they will surely support a Liberal/National government.  Of course, Tony Abbott is on record saying that minority governments don’t work.  He will jettison that comment like so much of the other drivel he comes out with if it means he can become PM.  The media will also completely fail to call Abbott a liar for making compromises in order to form a stable and functioning government.

This perhaps unlikely scenario offers some hope for progressives. Given Palmer’s stated positions on indigenous affairs and asylum seekers, the UAP may force any potential minority Abbott government to be less disgraceful on those issues in a similar way to how the Greens and independents managed to arrest Labor’s lurch to the right, for a time at least. In the really unlikely event that the UAP forms government and Palmer becomes prime minister, then if we have to have government by and for big business, then better to have the real thing than a bunch of opportunistic political hacks doing their masters’ bidding.

Yes, it’s all conjecture but either way, this election just got a little less depressing.


  1. Interesting reasoning, Bill. Andrew Elder over at http://andrewelder.blogspot.com is adamant that Abbott won't become PM and makes a convincing case. I like his reasoning too but the overwhelming perception of the MSM is that the coalition will win in a landslide come September. Can you see a way that they can lose?

    1. Andrew Elder is great. I don't know anything that he doesn't, but I wish I had his certainty.

      I certainly think that progressives have been really shortsighted in deriding Palmer's tilt. If he can drive a wedge into the right-wing, big business vote, then progressives should be exploiting that for all it's worth. He's going to take more votes from the Liberals than from Labor.