I need a photo opportunityNone of the reasons why Clive Palmer went into politics seemed plausible until now.
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard
- Paul Simon You can call me Al
Was he peeved at Campbell Newman? Fine, but why run candidates in Tasmania and WA?
Did he hate Labor's carbon tax, its other policies and its way of operating generally? Fine, but why not throw cash at Abbott and let him get on with it?
Palmer's big mining investments seem unsustainable in the face of a cooling Chinese economy, and like the Indians they increasingly seem to be making their own arrangements. The massive Galilee Basin proposals look set to go the way of Olympic Dam: pipe dreams of another age. At the very least, Palmer wants to hedge his bets. At most, Palmer wants politics to replace what he's losing in business.
Palmer's company won a concession from Greg Hunt to dump mining tailings onto the Barrier Reef, which will devastate the reef at that site and cast a pall far beyond it. This shows that the relationship between Palmer and the government can't be all bad. Hunt has stopped his rhetoric about devolving environmental approvals to the states: the last thing Palmer would want is for Newman to be determining the fate of his business.
In the budget, Hunt did not hack into environmental assessment capacities and force the states to pick up the slack like Pyne did with education. Hunt fails to recognise that the Reef creates more jobs as an intact ecosystem than mining ever could. Again unlike Pyne, Hunt can't simply insist black is white and deny, deny, deny any evidence to the contrary. He doesn't stand up for any kind of principle. Greg Hunt is nothing.
The fact that Palmer's company has this concession should have attracted comment from Al Gore. Hell, if there were any journalists at the Gore-Palmer press conference, they might have asked either man about the issue. Gore seems happy enough to bore it up a government that flouts his inconvenient truth, and is political enough to know the enemy of my enemy doesn't have to be an angel.
It is significant that Palmer is insisting on a carbon
The contrast with Rudd and Gillard is telling in both their extensive consultation, and the sheer absence of any credit they got for it. On social media Palmer is referred to as #Cliev, pre-empting the sort of massive betray that saw the last British PM but one referred to as "Bliar".
So the country will have a price on carbon, regardless of how it voted. The idea that we could vote climate change away was always bullshit but Abbott and the press gallery insisted otherwise: they can't recognise they've been had, let alone admit it. The political class has decided we are to have one and all else is quibbling among stakeholders. And your electricity bill is going up anyway.
For Palmer, folksiness and populism could be all he has left. For now, as with the apprehension (spellcheck almost rendered that as 'apparition'!) of his coal wealth, it's enough.
He has roped the dope that is Tony Abbott. The fact that Abbott can't deal with Palmer is a major structural weakness for his leadership of the Liberals - which is why Bolt and Jones went berserk when Turnbull demonstrated his credentials in this newly vital area.
Palmer is overshadowing Shorten as Opposition Leader, but so what? When Santamaria or the communists denounced the ALP, you didn't see Menzies wading in to defend them. Shorten's proper role is to play up the differences between Palmer and Abbott, and to avoid them forming a mutually reinforcing alliance. In his native Victoria, Labor was competitive when they took the Coalition head to head, but when they let Frankston Man have his head he gave them Napthine's.
Tony Abbott had risen through command-and-control politics. He's never had to convince anyone, just appear plausible, and powerful men came to his aid: Murdoch, Antico, Packer, Howard. The negotiation skill he had as Health Minister, always with Howard's imprimatur, has deserted him. Palmer won't be comanded or controlled. The whole Credlin operating model just doesn't work with Palmer. Palmer isn't going away and those who depend on him doing so are not the strategic geniuses they fancy themselves to be. If the Credlin operating model doesn't work, this government is finished, whether or not Abbott remains as leader.
Even so, expect disgruntled former employees of Palmer to start being interviewed about what a lousy boss he is, or worse.
Palmer started off in the command-and-control politics of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He learned that if you dazzle journalists they don't question you, and that even if they do a homely dollop of verbal bilge will negate the point of interviewing you at all. His attitude toward his party's senators shows his understanding of discipline, but his evasion of this government shows he knows the moves well enough to give them the slip.
All of that shows up the press gallery focus on Palmer's "conspiracy" to secure a press conference. They are every bit as useless as the Queensland press gallery in the 1980s - even worse for having learned absolutely nothing since about holding government to account.