24/07/2014 - 05:25

Piper Palmer plays to the crowd

24/07/2014 - 05:25


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The first two weeks of sittings by the new Senate have only added to the uncertainty surrounding the government’s legislative agenda.

Almost a month into life under the new Senate and it seems the remaining two years under the Abbott government will be a period of protracted legislative gridlock.That's certainly what most political pundits, both here and on the east coast, believe.

For a week or so, I fully agreed; but as Clive Palmer's erratic behaviour (and that of his three obedient senators) unfolded, it was difficult not to begin suspecting that perhaps the 'g' in gridlock should be dropped, since 'ridlock' probably more accurately describes the agenda of the government's opponents.

The three-legged coalition of Labor, the Greens and Palmer United Party senators looks to have set a course to force a double dissolution of parliament well before the scheduled 2016 election by ensuring nothing, no matter how worthy, the Abbott government seeks to enact becomes law.

The appeal of such a negative agenda, especially for Labor and the Greens, is that neither would need to do anything beyond voting down whatever an Abbott government proposes, knowing the PUP senators will always be stonewalling one way or another.

Labor and the Greens would thus simply need to sit back and wait, without dirtying their hands in grubby politics, even though they clearly are willing accomplices.

Causing gridlock of the entire Abbott legislative agenda means they'd be in with a chance to get a double dissolution that might even boost their senate numbers, since that chamber's quotas in such contests are halved.

And if the coalition survived a full term, until late 2016, it would be without achieving many of the policies announced before the 2013 poll.

Although the new Senate has only had two weeks of sitting days, negotiations thus far have often bordered on farcical.

Quite coincidently mid-way through that fortnight Mr Shorten was interviewed on the ABC's Insiders program where host Fran Kelly asked if he and Mr Palmer were in cahoots to thwart the coalition's (and Mr Palmer's) promised scrapping of the carbon tax.

Kelly: "So talk about who's playing with who, I noticed, we've seen on some news bulletins a text that Clive Palmer sent you on Thursday morning as events unfolded which said: 'Tell Penny Wong, we are going to vote against repeal of carbon [dioxide] tax, Clive'.

"So he told you before he told Tony Abbott and the government, who he was still negotiating with at this point.

"How close are you with Clive Palmer?"

Shorten: "We talk."

Opting for the understatement wasn't altogether surprising because of Mr Palmer's intense dislike of all things Liberal and National.

Evidence of the depth of his enmity is shown by the fact that he's again resorted to his long-practised ploy of taking legal action, this time against two senior Queensland Liberal-National MPs.

Also not to be ignored is the fact that veteran Greens activist, Ben Oquist, a long-time adviser to former Greens leader Bob Brown, has become a key Palmer adviser.

To ensure even broader anti-Abbott credentials exist, a former adviser to now retired Independent Tony Windsor, John Clements, is also helping Mr Palmer and his team.

Although Mr Oquist has apparently fallen out with Senator Milne he's now a key figure in the country's most ardent anti-coal and anti-oil entity, the left-leaning Australia Institute that bills itself as the nation's 'most influential progressive think tank'.

The fact that he led Mr Palmer, an emerging coal mining and exporting baron, towards balking at scrapping the CO2 tax and aligning his party with anti-coal and anti-oil crusader, Al Gore, is a measure of Mr Oquist's persuasive skills.

Government MPs' joy when PUP senators eventually voted to scrap the tax could not disguise the merry dance on which Mr Palmer and his colleagues had led them.

Has Australia ever seen such a seemingly contradictory porridge of ideologies and interests?

In the box seat sits near-billionaire powerbroker Mr Palmer, who, as well as once bankrolling conservative Queensland state governments, now seeks, with Greens advisory assistance, to rid Canberra of conservative governance.

And behind the scenes is Labor, which allegedly backs the interests of workers, including big-earning Queensland coalminers, and is in bed with both.

Just where this incompatible gridlock and anti-Abbott alliance is headed is difficult to say; but all is far from rosy in this camp.

Hovering over all these contradictions, ambitions and bitter dislikes is Mr Palmer's Beijing Pilbara partners, the Citic Pacific Group, which has launched legal proceeding that contend he and his three senators were bankrolled into power with money that's rightfully China's.

If charges are laid and proved, the Palmer-Greens-Labor alliance would need to promptly return to the drawing boards to help ensure they regain power.


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