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Maverick or political dinosaur? A weekend with Clive Palmer

Clive Palmer was in fine form at his Fairfax Festival Weekend, spouting folksy wisdom and avoiding tricky questions. Freelance journalist James Rose was there to experience the madness.

The most important things in life are “a bed to sleep in, a woman who loves you and to be able to pay for the next meal. Beyond that everything is an illusion.” So intoned the man who stands between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his legislative agenda. Clive Palmer, the people’s billionaire, was fired up with folksy shtick at his Fairfax Festival (the federal seat, not the ailing media behemoth) as he golf-carted between media engagements and public forums in his very own resort, glad-handing happy voters and taking compliments.

A bemused crowd, presumably some of the 100,000 or so voters Palmer told us he invited along to pretend they could afford to stay at the formerly ritzy Palmer Coolum Resort, shuffled among the robotic dinosaurs and the classic autos. Having grown up on the Gold Coast, there was something familiar for me in the endearingly naff displays, the glaze-eyed kids and the parents trying to be entertained.

The mid-morning presser in the Marcoola Room attracted maybe 15 note-takers, a bevy of cameras and was pretty much pointless. The questions flew as the nation’s hacks attempted   — vainly — to find chinks in the dinosaur-thick carapace of Clive of Coolum. Fuel excise indexation, the carbon tax, Queensland politics, local politics, accountability, party finances were all fired at him. He ducked and weaved and sustained not even a flesh wound. And then Palmer was back in his golf cart with long-suffering media adviser Andrew Crook and was away.

Palmer is fast rising above politics. His is a social and even cultural phenomenon, at least as much and possibly more than a political one. He is suggestive of a sense that Australians, generally, don’t like politics and would rather not have much to do with it. Palmer seems to mine an ancient seam of institutionalised freedom, where representatives were selected at random and held office only briefly. It’s an adventure, not a career.

He seems unconcerned about history, or his career, or political games, or a parliamentary pension and MP perks.  He can take or leave it, and, as he regaled at the weekend presser, he could go to his homes in New York or Switzerland, spend money and have fun. The gleam in his eye and permanent smirk give away the truth: he’s having plenty of fun anyway.

But he’s not really the anti-politician. He is in the system. He got there largely by winning the material game. Money buys a voice, buys media space, buys clout, buys credibility, and for all the anti-establishment characterisations of Clive Palmer, let’s not forget that. He is a product of the system despite all his quirks and off-message moments.

He told Crikey that he was in this for “justice”. It’s not about power or money, he said. In the line up for one-on-ones with the man, I let Channel 9 and Fairfax (the ailing media behemoth, not the federal electorate) in ahead of me, as they had tighter deadlines. It meant my time was a little diminished, so I cut to the chase and played word association with him.

Here’s what came up:

  • Modern media: “70% controlled by Murdoch”;
  • Murdoch press: “Biased”;
  • Climate change: “Important issue”;
  • Fuel excise: “Low excise is essential”;
  • Asylum seekers: “A better way of doing it”;
  • Paid parental leave scheme: “Waste of money”;
  • University fee deregulation: “Knowledge is a right of freedom”;
  • The 2014 budget: “An untruth”;
  • The Senate: “Opportunity”;
  • Politics: “Public service”;
  • Family: “Love”.

This looks rapid fire. But it wasn’t. There were lots of ums and ahs and looks off to the T-Rex on the golf course. What does this verbal Rorschach tell us? Not much I suppose, and the motivations and the agendas — the grease that moves those political cogs in his brain — remain elusive. But he’s no idiot, Clive of Coolum. He’s no harbinger of a new era of anti-politics, either. He may be a political cut snake, but he’s still our snake.

13
  • 1
    Di Keller
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    What is this word “presser” ?? The only place I seem to find it is Crikey. So pretentious Haha!!

  • 2
    Graham Morphett
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    What a shame - the reporters got bored!

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    So he treats politics with the contempt the viewsmedia does (in their supercilious “opinion is all” manner) - and the media with the self-serving contempt Murdoch does (pimping it to turn the tricks that achieve his own influential ends)?
    “T-Wrecks” - apex predator in the evolution of “Modern Politics”?

  • 4
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    And “2.81818181818 word slogans” - more economical than Abbott?

  • 5
    Broony Saint
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I see a bloke, who built an empire but “ain’t” forgotten those, who’s work got him there.

    He see today’s politicians for what they are, self serving and denialists to being no more than self glorified public servants. (over paid deligaters)

    His idea, returning the liberal concepts back to centre. Read up on the United party, it drew people from both sides of the track. (equals balance)

    The two party system has been running for to long. Change starts with us, by giving a bloke a chance. The Aussie way.

  • 6
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what came up:
    •Modern media: “70% controlled by Murdoch”;
    •Murdoch press: “Biased”;
    •Climate change: “Important issue”;
    •Fuel excise: “Low excise is essential”;
    •Asylum seekers: “A better way of doing it”;
    •Paid parental leave scheme: “Waste of money”;
    •University fee deregulation: “Knowledge is a right of freedom”;
    •The 2014 budget: “An untruth”;
    •The Senate: “Opportunity”;
    •Politics: “Public service”;
    •Family: “Love”.

    And the typists that try and pass as reporters and journalist had nothing of significance to say. Furthermore the is a very worried Joh Cando Neumann out there if recent polls tell the Queensland voting intentions.

    …spouting folksy wisdom and avoiding tricky questions, duh! Was Tony rAbbott there as well?

  • 7
    MJPC
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I saw his interview with the hosts of Weekend Sunrise and, for once, he was really thrown some curly ones regarding his recent climate change circus.
    By the end of the interview he was really looking quite uncomfortable and shown up for the grandstanding imposter he is.
    Of course the rest of the media treat him like some sort of joke, pretty sad when this country needs some leaders rather than politicians.

  • 8
    old greybeard
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Of course he sees modern politicians for what they are. One of his early backers was Russ Hinze for heaven’s sake. Palmer should have a lot of fleas, he has lain down with a fair range of mangy mongrels. Like his mate Joh, he has hidden from scrutiny. It will be interesting to see how the serious press follow him. The attempt to move to Canberra undid Joh.
    What he says in the points is largely true. Needs to look the mirror though.

  • 9
    AR
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    The PUPster may not be an idiot but can that be said of those who gave him their 1st preference (can anyone recall the primary vote)with only slightly less opprobrium attaching to those who preferenced him?

  • 10
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    He cut his teeth with Sir Joh, hence his carapace is akin to that of a rhino.

    Sure he bought power - just like his nemesis, Rupert. These two giant egos have more in common than Palmer would care to admit.

  • 11
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Monday, 30 June 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I hope Clive gave those 36 voters of limited intelligence a special night at the Palmer resort…complete with a famous Coolum desert…..”I liked the deserts so much I bought the company…”

    Oz’s answer to Mr Creosote will need little help in leaving the scene…just roll him on his back or invite him to a last supper with M Turnbull………BOOM!!

    Just don’t be in the vicinity when it happens…

  • 12
    Ward Geoffrey
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Nice piece on Clive. of course he bought his way in with money but most Australians are so apathetic and ignorant about politics they couldn’t care less. I just hope Clive gives Abbott fits. That is all he has to do to get my favour.

  • 13
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Tuesday, 1 July 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes, MJPC, though it is probably a sad comment on much of the news coverage dished up by the commercial networks, that Andrew O’Keefe, who made a name for himself as a comedian and game show host, constantly does a better job at political interviewing, than pretty well all their journalists.

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