One of the many Clive Palmer billboards that foreshadowed his return to politics
One of the many Clive Palmer billboards that foreshadowed his return to politics

Palmer a clear and present danger


SIX months ago, Australia's road network was blitzkrieged with hundreds of bright yellow billboards showing a smiling Clive Palmer, wedged between an emu and kangaroo, giving the thumbs-up to motorists alongside the slogan "Make Australia great''.

When asked by journalists if this meant Mr Palmer was contemplating a political comeback, a spokesman for the former federal member for Fairfax told the press: "It's not a political campaign and has nothing to do with politics. He's just very patriotic and loves his country.''

Of course that was utter nonsense, and since then Mr Palmer has registered his new political party, known as the United Australia Party, and is now spending about $1 million a month on TV, radio and billboard advertising.

So much for "it has nothing to do with politics''.

It has everything to do with politics, and with his flashy advertising and larger-than-life presence in the daily papers and on TV, Palmer represents a clear and present danger to the conservative voting base.

Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer - particularly in Queensland where there are at least six seats that the Coalition holds with wafer-thin margins - have the potential to significantly impact the conservative vote.

Hanson and Palmer appeal to disgruntled Coalition voters because they represent the angry and abandoned conservative.


One of the many Clive Palmer billboards that foreshadowed his return to politics
One of the many Clive Palmer billboards that foreshadowed his return to politics


For Mr Palmer, this is a revenge play where his preferences are designed to be a game-changer in certain tight contests.

Queensland Parliament was told in 2014 that Mr Palmer had sought preferential treatment for business deals but was rebuffed by then premier Campbell Newman and government ministers.

Palmer's enmity was palpable, and so began his one-man-wrecking-ball strategy, fuelled by wads of cash.

His loathing of the conservatives extended to then prime minister Tony Abbott, who quickly saw Palmer as a blowhard.

There is internal research from the major political parties that Palmer is polling about 11 per cent of the primary vote in the Townsville-based seat of Herbert.

In a seat where there is literally a few hundred votes between the major political parties, this would mean that the major beneficiary of Palmer's preferences would take the seat.

It's slightly disturbing that a character like Palmer may still command double-digit primary numbers in some federal seats.

This is despite his short-lived career as the member for Fairfax and implosions among his Senate representatives.

It's also in addition to his well publicised court dramas, especially those centred on liquidators at Queensland Nickel, the company he owned, which was closed, sending 800 people out of work.


Illustration: John Tiedemann
Illustration: John Tiedemann


Clearly, spending a fortune on advertising and marketing will help deliver votes from the disaffected.

But another theory put to me by a smart political mind is that the behaviour and antics of politicians have deteriorated to such an extent that some voters now put them all in the same basket and are prepared to overlook their failings if they like some of their policies.

For example, supporters of US President Donald Trump overlooked his misogyny and looseness with the truth because he said he would "drain the swamp''.

Look at Victoria. Premier Daniel Andrews holds a comfortable 54-46 lead in the polls and looks like being re-elected, even though the state has a youth gang problem and has been dogged by the so-called "redshirts'' scandal.

In Queensland, voters know the Left and the unions are running the state, but regardless they had no problem voting Labor back.

Australians see poor behaviour by big banks, unions, councils, oil companies, the churches, the list goes on... and for some voters it's possible, even likely, that they have taken the attitude that the behaviour of politicians is now reflecting that of the wider community.

That's why strong independents are doing so well.

It means Palmer will play a key role in the upcoming federal election through the allocation of his preferences.

Unfortunately, Australia will be the poorer for it.