Federal

Jun 19, 2018

Clive, Brian, Pauline and the great physics experiment of Australian politics

The process of senators bouncing around micro-parties is the result of unstable entities tapping into the energy of populist discontent — and breaking up as a result, in an endless process.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Clive Palmer Brian Burston

So Clive Palmer is back, almost as if he’d never been away. The man who once commanded the key Senate swing party (so to speak), only for it to implode before our very eyes in, well, exactly the way we all expected, is now taking other party’s leftovers.

One Nation cast-off Brian Burston is now Palmer’s “Senate leader”, a gig surely even the least competent politician could manage given he only has to lead himself. Erstwhile party colleague Peter Georgiou has nearly as easy a gig, having been elevated, if that’s the right word, to the enviable status of One Nation Whip in a party of two. Admittedly, given Pauline Hanson’s tendency to not bother showing up to work in Canberra, it may have the occasional challenge.

How long before Georgiou goes his own way, and Burston and Palmer fall out? Perhaps Georgiou could then join Palmer, and Burston could move on to the Katter Party, where momentary former colleague Fraser Anning now uneasily resides. Or he could team up with Jacqui Lambie (sure to return to the Senate at the next election); not to be confused with former colleague Steve Martin, who’s started his own Tasmanian Nationals sub-branch. Or there’s Cory Bernardi’s outfit. The Senate is a giant physics experiment with particles flying about, momentarily deviated from their path by the gravity of heavier objects, before flying off again, pinging into other particles on other trajectories. Actual policies are only a minor byproduct of this process, the Higgs boson of the taxpayer-funded Large Ego Collider installed in the western side of Parliament House.

That Palmer has returned to politics — although whether he’ll actually stand again for election must surely be doubted — is at first blush surprising given how spectacularly his first effort blew up, as well as his subsequent adventures in nickel. But Pauline Hanson endured an even bigger flame-out in Queensland state politics in the 1990s and kept at it. She, of course, was doing it for a living, reaping millions from taxpayers for her 5-10% of the vote, and Palmer claims he’s not in need of a quid. But Bob Katter has been doing it nearly as long as Hanson, having bailed on the Nationals in 2001.

They’re all in the same game, trying to tap into the energy of populist discontent with political modernity, an energy that waxes or wanes in the electorate, depending on circumstances, and which has waxed strongly at the last two federal elections. But because minor parties are inherently unstable, they can’t handle the result of successfully tapping into that energy — they burst, firing senators off in all directions. And so the process continues.

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It’s an endless cycle of discontent, electoral expression and political fragmentation that means yesterday’s kingmaker is tomorrow’s answer to a political trivia question and next decade’s swing vote, in which the same names can keep circulating if they have any sort of brand recognition. Voters, even more than the press, aren’t very good at remembering how it all went sour last time around, how the election night cheers and backslapping turned to Sky News tears, “in a letter obtained exclusively by The Australian” and tweeted recriminations. All just the emotional energy given off by the collision of political particles.

22 comments

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22 thoughts on “Clive, Brian, Pauline and the great physics experiment of Australian politics

  1. klewso

    Malcolm Frankenstein’s DD monstrosity – where you only need half the quota of chromosomes to be a Senator …… and “company tax cuts mean higher wages”.

  2. swimming the Hellespont

    “Unrepresentative swill” is now officially archived as the official descriptor for this circus. Bravo Bernard.

  3. Robert Smith

    You have to wonder why Burston would go with Palmer after falling out with Hanson – swapping one oddball for another. My guess is the objective is re-election – this would be impossible as an independent but he hopes the Palmer name & money is his only hope. Hardly a bright outlook.

  4. Persistently Baffled

    Large Ego Collider – stop it, you’re hurting me

    1. AR

      I tend to think of it as the Large Hard-on Collider.

  5. rodneydeakin

    Bernard,
    “the Higgs boson of the taxpayer-funded Large Ego Collider “. Pure genius BK. Worth my subscription.
    Rod Deakin

    1. colin skene

      Absolutely. For me too. Brilliant.

  6. Andrew P Street

    Is Lambie that safe a lock for the next election? Yes, the numbers are minuscule for Tasmania, but her party’s humiliating performance at the state election – and failure to even bother finish campaigning, for that matter – suggests that her name’s not quite the box office draw it was.

    I mean, unless her Senate run was positioned as part of her SEARCH FOR TRUE LOVE! in which case sure, she’s definitely back.

  7. Dog's Breakfast

    “But because minor parties are inherently unstable, they can’t handle the result of successfully tapping into that energy — they burst, firing senators off in all directions.”

    Perhaps you should have gone to biology rather than physics BK, sounds more like a virus, and a virus is more apt.

  8. kyle Hargraves

    Well put Bernie. I enjoyed the assessment of the physics of the Senate. On reflection such is rather a good reason for abolishing an upper house.

    The last time that I looked at a manifesto of the Palmer Party there were some constructive policies in regard to tax. But overall, I’ll suppress the impulse to send Clive a C.V.

    1. Mike Smith

      Think of the awful legislation that would have been passed without it

      1. kyle Hargraves

        NZ abolished its upper house almost 70 years ago. The State of Qld does not have an upper house. I accept that it is normal (even trendy) to put the ‘gov’ into the House of Reps and their opposite numbers into the Senate but, overall, it is counter-productive; just take a look at the politics in Washington (DC). The electorate ought to have the insight to make prudent selections in the first place and the guts to stick with the decision.

        1. covenanter

          What did that US founding father have to say about chaining government to save the people from its tyranny? The function of the senate in that case?

          1. kyle Hargraves

            Laudable objectives are all very well but after a century or two of practice the (only) question that remains is : “does it work”? A more important question is : “are there effective and and more efficient alternatives”? In this regard the NZ taxpayers (and voters) are ahead.

          2. covenanter

            From uni-cameral NZ to uni-cameral Queensland, the unholy spectre of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, tends to prove that it does not work as well as its predecessor.

          3. kyle Hargraves

            “WIDE” : one run awarded!
            But you do get to bowl another ball. Now, does what you have written (June 20, 2018 at 5:42 pm) actually contain any content at all?
            In particular, in what sense are you using the word “prove”?

          4. covenanter

            Not familiar with your boy Joh then?
            Perhaps that brain rotting English game you allude to is to blame, did they ever play that in Danevirke? Gentlemen and the forelock tugging colonial players and all that, not very appealing to those of sterner stock.
            And the phrase is “tends to prove” ie that your assertions on the inadequacies of a house of review are are mere , unfounded opinion.

          5. kyle Hargraves

            > Not familiar with your boy Joh then?

            I will say that you do have the “gift” for unsupported assertion. Further I suggest that it is rather well known that (along with Russel Crowe, and countless others) Bjelke-Petersen was a New Zealander and grew up in the town that you identify.

            As to honorary doctorates, along with Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen was awarded an honorary doctorate in Political Science by University of Queensland (presumably for the dismissal of 1000 gov employed sparkies and semi-tradies – of which the subsequent contracted labour made a monkeys breakfast of the job). However, distinction that hardly compares with Robert Mugabe’s similar awards from Edinburgh University (1984), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1986) and Michigan State University (1990).

            You might even get one for being able to write a paragraph on the ‘Separation of Powers’; Bjelke-Petersen could not utter a (coherent) sentence on the matter.

            > “Perhaps that brain rotting English game you allude to is to blame”
            Yet another (impulsive) remark made without the lest experience of the topic.

            > “did they ever play that in Danevirke”
            You might as well ask if Cricket is played in Alice Springs – but the question (from you) doesn’t surprise me.

            > “And the phrase is “tends to prove””
            requires (1) some awareness of what constitutes a proof and (2) the properties germane to the matter as to what is latent to establish the proof

            > unfounded opinion.
            If you don’t consider 60 years of government without a Senate to be no less functional that countries (e.g. Australia) with a Senate then there is nothing that I can do for you. As an aside you are (given the reply) unable to justify the comment of June 20, 2018 at 5:42 pm

  9. Ian Roberts

    LHC – Large Hanson Collider? Have you heard of the Pauline Exclusion Principle? The PEP prevents more than two pollies coexisting in one party and even then their heads need to spin in opposite directions.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      Definitely susceptible to observation if not measurement to within Plank’s constant. I wonder at what temperature the Senate becomes opaque on account of transforming (state) into plasma?

  10. RoRo

    I’m not sure it’s that surprising that Clive Palmer is back in politics – the signs have been there. He’s had Clive Palmer “make australia great” signs in key mid-outer suburbs of major australian cities/regions that are likely to have been affected by the GFC (e.g. Virginia in Brisbane, Brooklyn in Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, that I’ve seen).
    He’s also got that ironic facebook presence where he takes the piss out of himself and mainstream/left politicians such as the greens.
    I guess he’s appealing to disaffected people who view the greens as sanctimonious lefties and Labor and Liberal as the establishment, not very different from each other and ultimately self-serving. He’s appealing to people who feel left out, patronised or unrepresented by mainstream politics.
    The irony being that he probably only wants to get into parliament to get rid of some other tax that he doesn’t want Queensland Nickel to be paying.
    (None of this is to say that I’m some Clive Palmer fan but I can see exactly what he’s aiming for)

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