Clive Palmer (Image: AAP/Kelly Barnes)

Parts of Queensland are turning yellow. Clive Palmer is back, this time to spoil Labor’s chances of winning the state election — widely considered a litmus test for politics in the time of COVID-19. 

With a war chest ready to go and LNP preferences said to be inked, Palmer wasted little time flipping the on switch to another campaign heaving with the same anti-Labor rhetoric as his 2019 federal election campaign. 

There’s a small snag though.

The Queensland government rushed through legislation in June to limit political donations and electoral expenditure ahead of the October 31 election, no doubt with people like Palmer in mind. 

The rules aim to make elections fairer by putting a cap on electoral spending in an attempt to stop people from distorting the political process. 

The rules have been hailed as some of the strongest in the country. But the most critical parts of the rules — caps on individual donations — will not come into effect until 2022.

This has experts concerned it won’t stop Palmer’s antics. 

“It’s very dangerous territory,” University of Queensland law Professor Graeme Orr said.

“When you’ve got a real party, a party that is concerned about its long-term reputation and its long-term existence, they have to play by the rules … But for Palmer, he can just kick in the money.”

Orr said a Palmer-style campaign could still disrupt Labor’s chances in the close race, even with the new spending caps in place.

“He can spread his money around to as many fronts as he wants,” he said. 

“If you spend that kind of money, particularly in some of the regions where Labor is weaker, it will have an effect.”

Spending capped

The new rules limit election spending to $57,000 for candidates endorsed by a party and $87,000 for independents. Those found to be in breach of the rules risk facing up to 10 years in jail.

But the caps on individual donations of $10,000 a term will not come into effect until 2022.

Griffith University senior lecturer Paul Williams said although the caps would “absolutely” dampen Palmer’s campaign, the election outcome was unlikely to be changed. 

“Clive’s impact on the federal election is somewhat overblown,” he said. “All things being equal, Palmer will run well below Katter and One Nation.”

False claims

Palmer’s game isn’t about winning seats. His former candidates have accused him of running a “sham party” and being a front for the Libs, given his history of preferencing the LNP. 

He is also a champion of misinformation, demonstrated over the weekend when he rehashed the false claim that Labor would introduce a death tax. 

On those fronts, the electoral rules are silent. 

“If he’s behind some anonymous meme that’s circulating, it’s very hard to penalise against that,” Williams said.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey