Clive Palmer and his troops need to get down to work if PUP is to be anything other than a party of protest.
I SUSPECT we’re only weeks away from the widespread use of the term ‘oligarch’ in Australian political discourse and commentary.
The reason is that Queensland’s idiosyncratic multi-millionaire and newly elected MHR, Clive Palmer, has shown he’s got ‘political swing’, and he’s intending to use it.
Oligarchs, who we’ve tended to associate typically with the Russian Federation and Ukraine, are people of great wealth who wish to add political power to their collection.
Mr Palmer, the new member for the coastal Queensland seat of Fairfax, is different from earlier wealthy Australians who became political ‘players’, because unlike most of them, he opted to enter parliament.
He wasn’t satisfied with just bankrolling causes and candidates in the manner of his wealthy predecessors.
Probably the best known of the earlier breed was Western Australian mining magnate Lang Hancock (1909-92), who doggedly challenged, over several decades, the state’s resources industry’s main architect, Sir Charles Court.
That ongoing imbroglio took countless twists and turns, including Hancock bankrolling a range of non-Liberal Party candidates and financially backing a secessionist party when Canberra’s power exploded with the rise of Labor leader, Gough Whitlam.
Hancock also put his toe into Queensland politics by donating more than $600,000 to help his long-time anti-Canberra minded pal, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
He also passed over about half that sum to WA’s Country Party, followed some time later with a $985,000 gift to this state’s Labor Party.
But he never contemplated entering a parliament.
Nor did Gordon Barton (1929-2005), who was allegedly offered, by an unnamed party, a Senate seat if he kicked $50,000 into the party’s coffers and cut his other political ties.
Barton moved into the political realm in the mid-1960s after finding his plans to expand his express parcel delivery enterprise blocked by Australia’s outdated two-airline policy, which the allegedly pro free enterprise Liberal Party determinedly enforced against all potential newcomers.
That prompted Barton to direct funds towards the creation of the Liberal Reform Group (subsequently the Australia Party), which gained backing at the booths primarily from quite sizeable numbers of disenchanted Liberal voters.
Although the party never won a seat, Canberra psephologist Malcolm Mackerras said it delivered the preferences that gave Whitlam-led Labor victory at the 1972 election.
Barton also financed the leftist weekly Nation Review, which focused attention on public and political affairs, and acquired book publisher Angus & Robertson.
By the early 1980s, his by-then international business had 6,000 staff.
Melbourne writer Sam Everingham regarded him as worthy of a biography, Gordon Barton: Australias Maverick Entrepreneur, written after Barton had died in Spain.
According to reviewer Richard Thwaites, the Barton party was “Australia’s first … with no class war history.
“Without ever winning a seat, the Australia Party was significant in bringing Whitlam to power in 1972, and later merged with disaffected Liberals to form the Australian Democrats,” he continued.
“In a sense, he helped break the two-party political cartel.”
With Mr Palmer going that crucial step further than Messrs Hancock and Barton from backstage political combatant, what can we expect over the life of the current parliament and the years beyond?
This question isn’t easy to answer despite Mr Palmer bucking the trend by placing his own name onto a ballot paper.
His Palmer United Party had won two senate seats, narrowly missing a third, so far.
But does PUP have staying power? Or better still, can this extraordinary birth be built upon?
All the signs so far must be described as ones that show PUP to be, at its basest, just a protest vehicle.
In other words, it’s dependent solely upon voters’ harbouring negative views of the LNP, Labor and the Greens.
And as long as PUP remains just that, it’s unlikely to score more than the 4 to 6 per cent voter backing, which is simply not enough to make a difference over the very long haul.
My informed political contacts suggest PUP stands for lower taxes, higher pensions, and flying so-called ‘boat people’ into Australia because that would be cheaper than patrolling our northern waters.
One even pointed out something I’d overlooked – PUP everywhere, except New South Wales, directed its preferences to Greens Senate candidates ahead of the Coalition parties and Labor candidates.
If you look at that policy line-up and conduct, it’s evident that PUP is, to use old Aussie slang ‘all over the place like a dog’s breakfast’.
It may be around for another election or two, but simply lacks basic credentials to be a stayer.
If Mr Palmer wants PUP to become a truly constructive force he should promptly rename it the People’s United Party, and begin creating a formal membership base and structure, followed by democratically run conferences that draw-up a credible platform to appeal to more voters.