Lazarus has never been far from Australian politics. Former Prime Minister John Howard was the embodiment of the biblical figure, albeit with a triple bypass. Now, Clive Palmer — businessman, alleged billionaire and one-time member of federal parliament — is attempting to grab the atrial fibrillation and bring his political career back from the dead.
But after a disastrous foray into federal politics, in which two of his three senators jumped ship within 18 months of their election and various serious business troubles, experts don’t believe that Palmer will get a second chance.
Across the country, bright yellow billboards with Palmer smiling and giving two thumbs up, with the Trump-like slogan “Make Australia Great!” have popped up mostly in outer “battler’ suburbs. His television ads are running on Sky and he’s opened offices for his new party, United Australia Party.
There are currently four national policies on the party’s website, one of which is: “Establishing a system where people create wealth in various parts of the country and for that wealth to flow back to the community that generates the wealth”.
Dr Jill Sheppard, who lectures in politics at Australian National University, says the biggest hindrance for Palmer’s planned comeback is that he’s simply “not a very good political strategist”.
“The whole approach seems very scattergun — those ads have no message, and without any kind of coherent policy, people aren’t really going to care.”
Sheppard added that Palmer relied on his status during the 2013 election as a self-made businessman to attract support, but with some of his businesses engaged in various problems, this is likely to sap that support.
“A lot of people have been burned by some of Palmer’s business decisions and that’s pretty hard challenge to overcome. He’ll need to explain that and so far, he hasn’t shown any political nous in doing that.”
UAP is not a new party; it existed for 14 years last century, won four elections, and gave us two prime ministers, Joseph Lyons and Robert Menzies. The party wound up in 1945 and folded into the newly-created Liberal Party.
On Palmer’s new UAP website, he’s claimed Lyons and Menzies as his own party’s successes.
Palmer has announced plans to contest the North Queensland seat of Herbert, which is held by Labor’s Cathy O’Toole. It’s an interesting decision, given that Palmer’s business, Queensland Nickel, collapsed in 2016 with debts of more than $300 million, driving more than 800 Townsville workers out of a job. They have not been paid their entitlements.
Palmer told ABC in May that he had $2.9 billion in assets.
Palmer’s original foray into politics had all the hallmarks of a high-stakes joke that went too far; spending big, promising big and crashing big, too. Palmer, under his Palmer United Party, successfully won the Queensland seat of Fairfax in 2013 and had three senators elected, including Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie. But by 2014, PUP had been consumed by anarchy with Palmer himself lashing out at his one-time colleagues in public, calling Lambie a “liar”. By the 2016 election, PUP’s only candidate, WA Senator Zhenya Wang, lost to Labor, Palmer left politics, closed the party and stepped into some spectacular business woes.
The Queensland Supreme Court recently ordered $500 million of Palmer’s private and company assets frozen after government-appointed liquidators attempted to scrap back $70 million in taxpayer funds paid out to Queensland Nickel workers.
He’s also under pressure for giving money his nephew and former Queensland Nickel director, Clive Mensink, who fled overseas amid ASIC seeking to arrest him for failing to answer questions in court.
Palmer, who was previously a generous donor to the Liberal Party, has been providing grants to sports clubs and community groups around Townsville, including $10,000 to Townsville Tiger Sharks swimming club.
Media and advertising strategist and commentator Dee Madigan says Palmer’s “cheap” advertising and vague political messaging will likely fail to tap into the disillusioned voters that he successful attracted five years ago.
“He’s styled his message on Trump but there’s only a certain amount of disenchanted voters and they’ve been scooped up by One Nation and the Katter Party.
“Whilst people are angry and sick of the major parties and see them as everything that’s wrong with politics, people can see through that Palmer is still trying to play them in his own way.”
Madigan added that anger in Queensland, and particularly in Townsville, against Palmer over the collapse of Queensland Nickel is “palpable”.
“The memory of him not paying workers has a strong impact. I would be very surprised if voters gave him another chance.”
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