federal election clive palmer
(Image: AAP/Michael Chambers)

Faction action loses traction

When Cory Bernardi announced that he was stepping down from the Senate and returning his seat to the Liberals from his own Australian Conservatives — having gone to the great political bonfire in the sky — it seemed like a touching rapprochement between the rogue senator and the party he abandoned.

And yet this sweet federal prize now threatens to tear the South Australian Liberals apart.

It had been all but assumed that the seat would be easily won by lawyer Morry Bailes, beloved by the party’s right faction, until state legislative council president Andrew McLachlan threw his hat in the ring at the last minute as the preferred candidate for the moderate faction, with the support of the Young Liberals.

And clearly feelings have been hurt. InDaily reports that hard-right federal pollies Tony Pasin (MP for Barker), Nicolle Flint (MP for Boothby) and shiny new Senator Alex Antic have all been excluded from the right faction as SA engages in a mad scramble to adapt to this shift in the centre of power to… well, whatever the Liberals think the centre looks like.

And given that once upon a time the hard right of the SA party was mobilised by the iron will of Bernardi, the fact that his departure has left his former allies in the factional naughty corner is either poetic irony or a brutal bit of scorched-earth revenge worthy of the Joker.

No pals in Paladin

The Liberals’ is not the only damaged relationship in the Festival State.

A falling-out appears to have struck the prime movers behind Paladin Solutions — the company revealed a year ago as the mysterious beneficiaries of a $483 million contract to run the Manus Island detention centre, despite apparently being run out of a phoneless beach shack on Kangaroo Island in an area with no mail delivery.

Ian Stewart formed Paladin with ex-soldier Craig Thrupp to provide cleaning and other small-level services to the facility on Manus Island. When Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield) succumbed to shareholder pressure to get out of the offshore detention game, they suddenly found themselves running the joint.

Stewart left the company last July amid controversy over its opaque dealings with the government and following an announcement its contract would not be renewed.

Now, he’s re-emerged to announce to the Nine mastheads that he’d totally be up for fronting a Senate enquiry on the company’s government contracts, with specific reference to corrupt dealings by PNG officials.

Stewart making such a Senate appearance could be very exciting for Home Affairs.

Last year, the department insisted that it was unaware of allegations of bribery demands involving PNG officials… before admitting that OK, fine, it knew about allegations but reported it to the Australian High Commission (not the Australian Federal Police, under whose jurisdiction such things would typically fall).

Last February, The Australian Financial Review raised flags regarding the links between Paladin and companies connected with PNG’s former prime minister Peter O’Neill and the country’s parliamentary speaker and member for Manus Job Pomat.

In case you were wondering, Paladin’s ex-headquarters were spared in the recent Kangaroo Island fires.

They really should whack it on Airbnb too: prime beachfront location, excellent security, no intrusive communication with the outside world…

Clivin’ la Vida Loca

If you’ve been reading the recent confirmation that Clive Palmer spent an eye-watering $83 million through his company Minerology to win zero seats for the United Australia Party in the 2019 election and thinking “well, at least that’s the end of his political shenanigans”, then allow us to introduce you to Townsville mayoral candidate Greg Dowling.

Dowling is, like so many of Palmer’s political picks, an ex-rugby league star. He ran for the seat of Herbert under the UAP banner last year, coming nowhere near winning it but helping ensure that Labor lost the marginal seat to the LNP’s Phillip Thompson, which was pretty much the entire UAP strategy.

Dowling is now running as a proudly independent candidate in the Townsville mayoral race. There is absolutely no reason to put “independent” in scare quotes — even though the many, many newspaper ads he can happily afford are splashed with UAP yellow, and also he has coincidentally received half a million dollars in political donations from Minerology.

If that sounds like a lot, you’re right: it’s apparently the largest political donation in Queensland history.

But don’t let that suggest that he won’t be fiercely independent — after all, he’s even got a crack team around him running for council, including the handsomely moustachioed Martin Brewster. Whose uncle is [checks notes] Clive Palmer.

That nephew is not to be confused with the other newsworthy Palmer nephew Clive Mensink, who is reportedly living extradition-free in Bulgaria and was still on the Palmer payroll as recently as 2018 despite arrest warrants awaiting him over the collapse of Palmer’s Queensland Nickel operation.

There’s been no official confirmation as to which Twisted Sister song Dowling plans to give a copyright-infringing remodel for his campaign, but 1984’s “The Price” seems like it’d be an appropriate choice.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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