In his second run at office, we find ourselves in the midst of a man of great ego, or of great ignorance, because it is only one or both of those two attributes which could compel a man to make another attempt at the exact game from which he had been so severely routed from previously, and it is only a man of tremendous means who could so easily gain a rarefied second chance at politics.
Having, insofar as can be seen, not adjusted his tactics at all, one wonders how Clive Palmer plans to re-enter the parliament and become a relevant pollical force once again. That this is a desire is undoubted by way of two facts: he has recruited, by way of defection, a senator, to his ‘United Australia’ party, and secondly because of the rampant advertising which likewise accompanied his 2013 run presently enamouring itself with our city centres.
One must consider, firstly, the ability to acquire a base with which to gain election, and secondly the party organisational structure to maintain forward momentum. That is, if one assumes that Palmer’s motives are beyond the mere short term and indeed extend to gaining parliamentary representation. Whether Machiavellian or Trump-esque, these antithetical descriptors possess one commonality: the ability to see beyond the curve. Perhaps I am mistaken, and Palmer is not making a real attempt at office, and this a part of some business ploy. But as a Queensland miner, why advertise at an inner-city train station in Melbourne, if not with the desire to persuade?
Admittedly, the man is confused if he believes his Lazarus moment will be brought about by inner Melbourne voters. As one who professes an ideology of reactionary populism, of the somewhat though not exclusively right-wing variety, one would assume his base to be geographically located elsewhere: the outer suburbs of the capitals, and perhaps the regions too. He should hit the sore points of these areas and hit them hard. Talk about freeway and railway congestion, emergency room waiting times, job security, and work casualisation.
Build on outrage and frustration, a la Trump. Indeed, he tried this before, albeit with a more limited vision (“axe the tax!”). However, the situation today is not the same as in 2013 when he was first elected; there is no blue wave against a deeply unpopular government. Though the current government may be unpopular, it has not manifested an equivalent red wave, perhaps in part due to the lack of a leftist counterpart to News Corp. Also, the ability to articulate a reactionary vision based on the word “no” (no carbon tax, no mining tax, etc.) is limited when a conservative government is already in power and lacking the capital to pursue polarising policy changes.
Whether in his two-year absence he has developed his political muscle will be the determiner of the potency of his party given that the ability to take House seats is near-impossible but for extraordinary support on the ground and from donors, and Senate seats present considerable competition not only with the majors, but other parties attempting to represent the niche of right-wing discontent in the Australian polity. In attempting to farcically replicate Trump, Palmer has failed to adapt his strategy to the Westminster system and the peculiarities of Australian politics. Further, what addendums he has made to the Trump strategy will prove only more likely to be his downfall. He seeks to form a new party from the ground up as a complete greenhorn; Trump took over a party already militantly organised and which fell in line in short order.
His best bet, in my view, would be to back an existing player in the game, like the Australian Conservatives, in exchange for influence on policy and legislation, or to resume his background role in the Coalition and await his chance for preselection when the parties are at their weakest. Alas, he is a man of such great ego, as one can see in his billboards, that his ability to see ahead and plan accordingly may well be blinded by megalo- and ego-mania and will doom his selfish political ambitions. Do not be mistaken: though the majors are built today on careerists, Palmer represents a purer distillation of this elitist cynicism, running counter to his professed desire to shake up the Australian political scene. It would be the same vehicle, just with a bright yellow bumper sticker on the back, and a set of wheels lacking tread.