01 July 2014

Paying the price

I need a photo opportunity
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
None of the reasons why Clive Palmer went into politics seemed plausible until now.

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 price mechanism. He apparently hasn't consulted with any stakeholders in the affected industries about what he's proposing, which means when their lobbyists descend on Palmer his position will essentially be reactive, and the end result could go any which way really. One thing is for sure: Palmer has insider knowledge of how he will vote that his competitors in the coal industry don't have.

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.


  1. I am one of these people that believes Clive should not be underestimated. Like Boris Johnson in the UK, a cultivated 'buffoon' appearance tied with at least the air of being a maverick can be a popular position amongst voters disenchanted with the same-ness of the hollow men in the major parties. Underneath it all is a healthy dose of self-interest that will drive direction and policy.

  2. He really feeds the chooks, does Clive. I found Lambies recent comments about voting independently interesting too; not for any true possibility of it, but the uncertainty that brings for a government that doesn't know how to negotiate. It's going to be a long long six years.

  3. My starting point is that Clive Palmer is a billionaire miner - why is he in Parliament, what does he want? I have never believed he 'bought' his way in to Parliament to do 'good' for the Australian public. I have read a little of what he has done to the unit owners of the resort he bought in Queensland. A person who can fraudently (I believe) deprive others of their properties by locking them out of the resort does not give me any confidence that he has means well for others. The fact that he has gained a permit to dump toxic waste into the area of the Great Barrier Reef is another big turn off.
    But I have a question - Andrew, do you believe that Al Gore was taken for a fool by Palmer because that was my initial response and nothing I've read since has convinced me otherwise.

    1. For a good read look up the recent trip advisor reviews of his resort. I think they give as good as insight into Clive as most journo pieces.

    2. I've been trying to research the issue on the resort. Not trusting the press to be unbiased, I'm looking for direct stories from unit owners. Has anyone found any sources for this? I can only find three unit owners who have spoken out, but there are supposed to be 300 affected. None of the three are claiming to represent any of the others, but every press story implies there are lots of unit owners taking action (eg Unit Owner X accompanied by 'other unit owners').

    3. He wants relevance. He's not going to be in the richest few Australians in 10 years time, given current mining trends - he wants to stay in the public eye, and he wants to feel like he's running the country.

      People - even very rich people - aren't automatons. You can't reduce their motivations to rational self-interest, or rational pursuit of ideology for that matter. Self-perception, general feelings of 'am I a success', wanting to 'win', ego and desire for respect are often far more influential as motivators.

  4. I think that Palmer's obvious self-interest will likely limit his appeal as some kind of maverick, eventually. But it may take some time.

    In the meantime, what do you think he's after? New coal mines aren't winning bank funding, so is he in politics just waiting for something to come up?

    The inconsistencies in his public comments are very similar to Joh, and as with Joh when the press gallery just report what he says he'll keep getting away with it. You're right – it will drive Abbott/Credlin crazy.

    1. Anything that drives those two nuts is fine by me...

      It's going to be a bumpy ride for Tosser Inc Pty Ltd

      He can network with all the contacts he's making in politics. ..they're all business opportunities to him

      The free p.r might feed his narcissism?

  5. Not sure how we are going to end up with any price on carbon once the dust settles. Sure, Palmer says he supports one, albeit starting at $0, but there's no way any new scheme could be passed for so long as this government holds the reins.

  6. Just like the "Joh for PM" campaign split the Tories years ago, Clive (a throwback to the same era) will create mischief for them now.

    I think Clive is interested only in what's best for Clive and tossing the occasional bone to the hungry electorate will keep his profile high and critical examination low.

    At worst it's entertainment for the masses and Karma for Abbott.

  7. It seems reasonable to assume the US administration has significant oversight of Gore's activities. This role might extend to having a say in Gore's itinerary.

    i.e. the decision to appear may not have been solely determined by Gore. His motives may have been different to the administration's motives. Pragmatism.

  8. He started off wanting to control the LNP like any other billionaire, but found Rinehart had gotten there first and their interests did not converge. He now sees an opportunity to get revenge on Rinehart, Murdoch and the LNP. It's not that complex.

    Apart from the loophole of not tying his carbon tax repeal vote to the ETS, I thought the Gore circus was actually very canny by Palmer. He may be the most talented politician in the country right now. He has the resources to shoot for the stars. Why not see how far he can go?

  9. It's a vendetta by Palmer against his enemies in the Liberal party.

    Watching Ms Lambie in the Senate , it's obvious what their intentions are with her dorothy dixer questions.

    Very interesting to watch!

  10. Palmer turning up to parliament in a classic rolls Royce was pure Belke Peterson politics, and sure enough the news media reported the story at face value. Not any utterance of his policy intent, just old fashioned show time politics. Any surprises there?!

  11. Clive P is only a prob for the coaltion because TA is an even bigger one.