26/06/2014 - 05:09

One bite too many for Palmer?

26/06/2014 - 05:09


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Clive Palmer has proved himself to be a political maverick, and it’s likely his party’s new senators could prove equally as difficult for the Abbott government to deal with

One bite too many for Palmer?

Tomorrow not only marks the start of the 2014-15 financial year, it also heralds a new stage in federal politics, with 12 new senators to take their seats in the upper house.

As intractable as the previous Senate proved to be for Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it's unlikely the government will find navigating its Bills through the new house of review any easier, particularly as the Palmer United Party will hold balance of power status.

So far, multi-millionaire and Queensland power broker, Clive Palmer, has proved to be both politically adept and innovative.

It was only in April last year that he announced his intention to become Australia's next prime minister.

Although Mr Abbott beat him in that regard, Mr Palmer nevertheless narrowly won the Queensland seat of Fairfax and bankrolled three unlikely candidates into the Senate where he could, at a whim, block any Abbott government legislation if the three fall into line.

PUP's three senators-elect are former Queensland rugby league player Glenn Lazarus, one-time military policewoman, Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie, and Western Australian mining engineer Zhenya Wang.

And to be doubly sure the government's legislative moves can be blocked Mr Palmer recruited a fourth unlikely Senate winner, Victorian timber mill worker Ricky Muir, of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party.

With such an enviable record, one is compelled to ask how this all came to pass, and whether Mr Palmer eventually could become PM.

If he did ascend to the top job he'd be the fifth Queenslander to do so.

His predecessors are Andrew Fisher, Arthur Fadden, Frank Forde, and Kevin Rudd.

The major difference between Mr Palmer and Mr Rudd, however, is that the latter used the more than century-old Australian Labor Party to lift him into high office, whereas Mr Palmer created his own party a few months before last September's election and handpicked three successful Senate candidates in the process.

PUP is, therefore, a populist party that presents itself as being outside the influence of the big-party machines; and it's a party that proved itself truly effective in outlaying huge sums of money on American-style campaigning.

All those I know who manned polling booths last September, and again for Western Australia's April Senate rerun, assure me PUP voters backed it because they liked Mr Palmer's letterbox drops, especially those CD discs.

Money, and lots of it, was crucial, although how much was spent all up isn't known. Not yet, anyway.

But we may learn the figure because those millions are presently at the centre of a legal row between Mr Palmer's Pilbara-based venture, Mineralogy (Senator-elect Wang's long-time employer) and China's Hong Kong-based Citic Group, which operates a $9 billion Pilbara project and wants to know precisely where and how a disputed $12 million was spent.

Citic was contracted to exploit Mineralogy's extensive Pilbara magnetite reserves.

"Citic is reportedly pressuring Mineralogy over two cheques totalling $12.167 million drawn from a fund established to operate a mining port in Western Australia's Pilbara region," one press report said.

"The cheques were drawn during Mr Palmer's campaign to win seats for the PUP during the last federal election."

Mr Palmer denies any wrongdoing and won't discuss the $12 million.

When last fronted by journalists near Parliament House he said, "I've got a meeting to attend".

But soon after he issued a statement.

"Citic currently owes Mineralogy millions of dollars and uses the courts as part of a Chinese government strategy to break Australian enterprises and take control of Australian assets without paying for them," he said.

Citic has signalled it wants disclosure by Mr Palmer and PUP of "financial details and key documents".

So a thoroughly forensic inspection of recent Palmer outlays by Mr Palmer is unfolding.

Precisely where Citic's judicial moves finally end cannot be predicted.

If, however, they fall the way Mr Palmer wouldn't welcome, his various political dreams, including especially his primary one of becoming prime minister, would be gravely set back, perhaps forever.

But even if he emerges financially and politically unscathed from his unwelcomed imbroglio with Citic, any intended road blocking of Abbott legislation may face challenges from another quarter.

To date, little notice has been taken of two other minor party senators-elect who have already set about becoming industrious reviewers of legislation.

They are NSW Liberal Democrat John Leyonhjelm, and South Australia's Bob Day, of Family First.

Both are former Liberal Party members.

And both are learned, contemplative and clear-minded about what long-term reforms Australia requires.

They've also indicated they intend working closely with the three PUP senators and Senator-elect Muir and to ensure such reforms are realised over the coming six years.

And neither sees Mr Palmer as having any crucial role in this process.

It will be interesting to see whether Mr Palmer's endorsement and financial largesse, or the idealism of senators-elect Leyonhjelm and Day, wins out.


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