You can understand why people voted for Clive Palmer and his party at the last election. In the run-up to the 2013 poll he was speaking on a variety of issues and topics and appeared to be a good balance between businessman and everyday Australian.
Palmer looked every bit the billionaire who cared, who understood the needs of the Australian people as much as he understood the global corporate world in which he’s amassed his fortune.
It seemed that by sending him to Canberra, the people of Fairfax might also be able to inject a representative into the House who would keep both sides of politics honest. Indeed, the successful election of three Palmer United Party senators suggested it was more than just the 22,409 people who voted for Palmer as their first choice for Fairfax wanting to see a new force in Canberra.
Palmer’s antics during the election campaign and his stunts turning up to Parliament in his Rolls Royce were humorous and the Australian people seemed to be getting what it said on the label.
But his outburst this week on the ABC’s Q&A and walk-out during an interview with 7.30 Report host Sarah Ferguson suggests that Palmer has not been able to make the crucial distinction between his own business interests and prosecuting that agenda against what is in the national interest.
This inability to put personal and business matters aside and his, and his party’s, policy backflips are a dangerous liaison for a government and the Australian people relying on the Palmer United Party to hold the balance of power.
Senator Don Chipp, the founder of PUP balance of power predecessor Australian Democrats, once famously said he and the Democrats were in the Senate to “keep the bastards honest”.
Unfortunately Palmer and his PUP senators seem to be running a line that they are all bastards.
The Australian economy is making a much-needed transition from the mining investment boom to something more balanced and optimistic for the future. It’s a theme picked up on by RBA governor Glenn Stevens in his opening address to Parliament this morning.
Stevens said the preconditions “for expansion are in place but aren’t yet fully confident it will happen”.
That’s central bank speak for “people and businesses are almost ready but are still uncertain about the economic outlook”.
Palmer has every right to defend himself and his companies’ interests in court but his antics in letting his personal battles with business partners cloud what previously was his judgement about China and the Chinese is a dangerous continuation of what has already become a series of political backflips and dangerous off-the-cuff policy making.
Australian politics is richer for the colour that Clive Palmer and his team have brought to Canberra.
Australian business owners are likely richer also for having a cross-bench and balance-of-power team who almost uniquely, among the Reps and Senators, understand them.
But Australian business and the economy also need a political environment where they can be as certain as possible when making decisions about the future. Palmer’s antics cloud the future and, as such, may harm the economy.
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