He’s been involved with robot dinosaurs, a new Titanic, and now he’s led a come-from-nowhere political party. Rarely has Clive Palmer been conventional.
At the latest count, the property developer turned mining entrepreneur turned politician looked set to win the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax, after standing as a candidate for his own Palmer United Party.
He speaks his instinctively lateral-thinking mind. It’s often entertaining, sometimes confronting. But in terms of serving the community he has also put his money where his mouth is.
In an extraordinary gesture he hosted a Christmas lunch for 600 disadvantaged people at his Coolum resort last year. Asked about covering the cost at the time, he said: “I don’t know, I don’t worry about those things, I just sign the cheques.”
Palmer is a success – and a self-made one, in no small part thanks to his trademark bluster. But if, as expected, he takes a seat in Parliament, he will be playing on a different stage. There is a new level of accountability that comes with representing a constituency and contributing to shaping the laws of a nation of 23 million people that simply doesn’t apply in business.
His party champions an Australian “revolution”. Its policies – such as generous tax deductions on home loans — has aimed to tap a vein of voters weary of the political circus that has played out in recent years.
Palmer styles himself as an average bloke who just happens to have a lot of money. And the candidates he fielded for the upper and lower house align with this.
For a while Palmer Coolum Resort manager Bill Schoch was a chance of winning the seat of Fisher, next to Fairfax.
Glen Lazarus, the former rugby league player nicknamed “the brick with eyes” looks set to take a seat in the senate for the PUP.
An ex-boxer, a farrier, a book-keeper, a restaurateur and several small business owners were put forward by the party Palmer registered with the AEC just 2 months before the election.
Such candidates are very much cut from the Australian mainstream, but their leader often presents as anything but.
Not that Clive Palmer is the type to take advice but he has some habits that, if dropped, might convince Australians he truly is just a normal guy looking to do something extraordinary for his country.
Here are some things Palmer should stop doing:
1. Suing people
Days before the federal election, Palmer told a live audience while on Channel Seven that he was going to sue Rupert Murdoch.
“Murdoch will be sued by me today and will be brought to Australia to answer these questions in the Supreme Court.”
He was angry about an article in The Australian published that day, which challenged several assertions he has been known to make.
When Palmer –- who has boasted of his litigation record — said he was going to sue Murdoch, he was already suing the journalist who wrote the story, and the newspaper, over previous coverage.
The day before the interview, his lawyers kicked off a defamation case against former Howard minister Mal Brough, who is running as an LNP candidate for Fisher.
Recently he’s been threatening to sue the Australian Electoral Commission over claims its counting of the votes in Fairfax was unfair.
On election night he said: “Yeah I think we’d take them to court, I’ve got enough money to spend on the AEC to give them a bit of a shake up,” a claim he made again the following days.
Politicians and political hopefuls are scrutinised by the press so that voters can get a handle on their views. It sometimes gets very ugly.
News Limited newspapers ran full page pictures of Kevin Rudd suggesting voters “Kick this mob out,” not long before The Australian ran the article which set Palmer off.
The Courier-Mail ran an article making fun of our “Moon face” PM, that claimed Rudd was packing on the pounds.
Stephen Conroy was Photoshopped to look an infamous dictator and had red underwear superimposed on his head.
None of these triggered a lawsuit. Politicians rarely sue — partly because they’ve been given power enough by their election to office. They can use their accompanying influence to resolve disputes rather than turning to the courts.
2. Airing conspiracy theories
Not that politicians are innocent of telling tall stories, but Palmer has come out with some crackers.
Recently he accused Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng of spying for China. Before that, claimed the United States, through the CIA, was funding activist group Greenpeace.
When you are sharing a beer or meal with friends, nothing goes down quite so poorly as a big claim with nothing to back it up.
Neither of these headline-grabbers were supported with any proof. And while a front bar debate is far removed from a debate in Federal Parliament, you’ll keep people’s attention more in both when you can back up what you say.
3. Telling everyone how rich you are
You’re rich. We get it.
On election night Palmer told the commentary team on Channel Seven he had “more money than you could ever dream of”.
It’s not a one-off. He’s also said “It’s not my fault I have a lot of money,” and alike on numerous occasions.
To be fair, in interviews Palmer has given where his wealth was brought up, he has said it’s a product of hard work, and is quite humble about his success.
But when you say things like “I have more money than you could ever dream of,” people rarely remember the context.
When you’re appealing to people who earn an average wage, it’s probably not much of a vote winner.
4. Outright refusing to answer questions
A few weeks out from the election Palmer hung up on ABC Radio after he was asked if he knew a candidate’s name.
In a separate interview, also on ABC radio, when he was asked about allegations of violence against women by two of his candidates, he said this:
“Look I can bring a charge against you for being a deadbeat.” That’s not a crime. We checked.
After he told the presenter he could have him criminally charged for being a “deadbeat,” Palmer asked him why he did not want to know about policy, such as lowering pensions.
“Why don’t you talk about policy? Why don’t you talk about reducing the pensions?”
Not that other politicians are known for their straight-talking honesty – which Palmer actually does a lot – but more than once during the election campaign he just began spouting his party’s promises, in response to questions which had nothing to do with them.
Other politicians waffle off topic. But at least they make a sporting show of dancing around the issue, rather than blatantly ignoring it or ending the interview.
Australians might expect some politicians to duck and weave in interviews but there is an unwritten contract that the public should know what their elected representatives have to say on a broad range of issues. That’s why politicians get asked questions they might not always like, and Palmer should get used to it.
5. Mixing politics and the workplace
According to the Brisbane Times, 12 current or former Palmer staffers ran for the PUP in the federal election.
The Australian reported staff at his Queensland nickel refinery received an email signed by Palmer saying he “expected” anyone available to staff polling booths in support of PUP candidates.
Palmer has denied writing this email himself. Here’s what it said, according to The Australian:
“Considering my long and continuing commitment to you and your families I expect that all those that are able to, will volunteer their time for approximately four hours on Saturday to assist in manning the polling booths.”
Most parliamentarians step back from the private sector when they enter politics. Palmer says he won’t – which is fine. But imposing political views on co-workers would horrify most workplaces. Besides, many Australians think it is bad enough they have to vote on a Saturday, let alone hand out how-to-vote cards.
But Palmer’s always played by his own rules and that’s unlikely to change.
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