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Saville's Shout

Jun 2, 2014

'Colin Barnett hiding in the desert': King Clive holds court

Say what you will about Clive Palmer; the man knows how to woo the public. Crikey headed along to see the Cult of Clive first-hand.

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Clive Palmer received an early Christmas present on the weekend in the form of an outside attack on one of his favourite targets, Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper. Like the Reverend Ian Paisley and the Catholic Church, these two are locked in a toxic, co-dependent embrace that will surely last until the Apocalypse and consume at least one of the participants.

Clive (like Madonna and Beyonce, only one name is needed) has been on Twitter all weekend republishing the (now-disputed) quote from former News Ltd boss Ken Cowley that “The Australian now is pathetic,” published on Saturday in The Australian Financial Review.

This was music to Palmer’s ears, coming on the heels of a vintage performance at the NSW Business Chamber on Friday morning (Crikey headed along to investigate the apparent allure of Clive in person). Over breakfast, and speaking in the style of an evangelical preacher, he repeated a few key phrases — “big government, bad,” “Rupert Murdoch, very bad”. In fact, if God had very bad adenoids (and hated News Corp), that’s probably what he would sound like.

Over and over, Clive used simple but emotive words: “Anzacs,” “the Southern Cross,” “World War II,” all of which have been used to sell anything from biscuits to cars and have the effect of making us feel good. At the end of the monologue he posed for photos for 20 minutes, with the good burghers of Sydney lining up like speed daters to bask in his presence.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen the public treat a politician quite like this. Pauline Hanson had a devoted following, but most of her voters were the angry (and toothless) dispossessed. Although Clive is as cunning as an outhouse rat, he presents himself as the anti-politician; his support is much broader.

All up, it was a fabulous performance from the big man — get rid of provisional tax (very popular with that audience, who regard tax-avoidance as a human right), telling them that “our politicians are hopeless leaders,” together with a simple, three-point plan for getting rid of the deficit. Cutting the paid parental leave, the National Broadband Network and the South Australian submarines would save $90 million right there, he told us. The money saved could be used for higher education — the Palmer United Party opposes increases in university fees — and one of Clive’s favourite causes, giving money to the children of veterans, which is a kind of motherhood policy on steroids.

Like Bob Katter and other “mavericks,” Palmer’s appeal is due to the fact that in an age when politicians vote only along party lines, he is willing to swim outside the flags. Last week he said he wouldn’t vote for the deficit levy because there is no “budget emergency”; we have the third-lowest debt levels in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. He also opposes the cuts to the unemployment benefit for young people — he had a four-month stint on the dole in his 20s — and spoke sincerely about areas like Tasmania and western Melbourne, which have high rates of youth unemployment. Palmer also vehemently opposes the lifting of pension age to 70, saying that people who work in strenuous jobs like construction should be able to retire and access their superannuation at 50.

The big man then breached this month’s fatwa —  making light of violence against women. He said that he went into politics because he wanted to get rid of Julia Gillard: “I couldn’t throttle her, so I had to get to Parliament to get rid of that woman.” Politically correct, he isn’t.

The talk ended in typical Palmer fashion, with the usual spat with a News Corp victim who dared to raise the claim by WA Premier Colin Barnett that Palmer has siphoned off millions of dollars from his Chinese business partners to fund the Palmer United Party’s election campaign.

Palmer vehemently denied this, saying, “I would know where we are taking it from,” before adding mysteriously, “the truth about Colin Barnett will come out in the next two weeks”. Given that Palmer’s previous conspiracy theories have included Wendi Deng being a Chinese spy and green groups being funded by the CIA (both incorrect), this one should be worth waiting for.

“At the moment, Colin Barnett is hiding in the desert, too frightened to come out,” Palmer hissed darkly, sounding eerily like Joh Bjelke-Petersen. And then, with a final benediction for the media — “May God bless you all” — he was whisked away. Here endeth the lesson.

Margot Saville —

Margot Saville

Crikey Sydney reporter

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