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Clive Palmer’s posturing is a goldmine for Labor

30 June 2012 960 views No Comment

QUEENSLAND politics has always had larger than life personalities.

From the National Party’s Joh Bjelke-Petersen to Labor’s Peter Beattie, the state has produced characters who have given its politics a national reputation for seldom being dull.

Now it is a one-time supporter of the “Joh for PM” campaign, which derailed a bid by John Howard to become prime minister, who is causing more than a ripple and embarrassing Tony Abbott and Queensland Liberal National Party Premier Campbell Newman.

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The latest public outbursts of billionaire Clive Palmer have enlivened politics with a vigorous campaign to remove federal Liberal Party president Alan Stockdale and vice-president Santo Santoro from the national executive on the grounds that they work as lobbyists.

He has argued publicly against Stockdale and Santoro on the grounds that “some people may perceive a conflict of interest” for lobbyists to be on the national executive. He characterised Santoro’s approach to lobby for the ABC should the Coalition win federally as “appalling”.

Palmer has also claimed Santoro has more than doubled his fees since the LNP came to power in Queensland.

While Newman has declined to comment, a little earlier Palmer and Abbott had an unsightly disagreement over the Liberal federal presidency.

With friends like Palmer, the federal Opposition Leader and Newman don’t need any enemies. Indeed, both leaders have to put Palmer in his place or be seen to be weak.

Palmer has made himself a target whose every activity, both commercial and political, will be closely scrutinised – even by the placid Queensland media.

The ALP will be carefully putting aside a file of Palmer’s quotes and claims to use in the next election campaign.

The LNP will come to realise that politics is about long-term perceptions and Palmer’s quotes are much too good for Labor to ignore.

But Palmer has been around politics for a long time and is dangerous.

He knows how to politically hurt opponents, saying, for example, that if Santoro wants to keep working as a lobbyist he should give up the office of vice-president and “if he loves money more than he loves the people, that is what he can do”.

The irony of all this posturing is that Palmer publicly portrays Queensland’s former ALP deputy premier Jim Elder as a man of virtue, claiming he decided to resign from the ALP when he became a lobbyist. But that is not true.

At the height of the ALP electoral rorts scandal, then premier Peter Beattie stated publicly that anyone involved in the rorting scandal had to resign from the party.

When Elder was about to be confronted by the Shepherdson inquiry about his party activities he had no choice but to resign. It had nothing to do with him much later becoming a lobbyist.

The fact is that Elder now does lobbying work for Palmer.

Hypocrisy is not dead in Queensland politics.

The next step in Palmer’s career is whether he stands for the LNP preselection in the federal seat of Lilley held by Wayne Swan.

He has said he will make a decision next week.

Palmer running for federal parliament anywhere would have to be the Coalition’s worst nightmare and a gift to the ALP of immeasurable proportions.

Almost certainly his lack of political discipline would be a goldmine for the ALP. Yet the Gillard government is so unpopular in Queensland that if Palmer were endorsed by the LNP he would have a good chance of beating the hardworking federal Treasurer. But how could Palmer run his businesses from the Canberra backbench?

Abbott would be wise to distance himself and his future government from Palmer. To do otherwise could seriously undermine his long-term legitimacy.

At the same time, Palmer should realise he is a liability for Abbott and the LNP, accept he is a billionaire businessman and focus on what he does best: making piles of money.