‘Aussies Cafe’ inside Parliament House is a funny place. It is where the powerful forces in our democracy collide in their pursuit of caffeine. Naturally, such a place is also the centre of gossip. On budget day, Clive Palmer got talking to a prominent media personality about his plans to seize federal power with a handful of Queensland seats he intends to take at the next poll. Like previous Palmer campaigns, no expense will be spared.
“Five senate seats,” Palmer told the gentleman, “In Queensland”. Of course, winning five out of six senate seats in any state is preposterous. It would require somewhere in the vicinity of eighty percent of the vote. But Palmer’s off the cuff remarks underline just how determined he is to make an impact on the May poll, and how deeply he despises the major parties.
Palmer’s campaign will be incredibly well resourced by a cash flow that comes on the back of court victories over Chinese businesses. He intends to use it to outspend both of the major parties combined, which would mean spending upwards of $25 million on his party’s campaign.
Most of this will be spent on advertisements, which believe it or not are written by Palmer himself. Some of the commercials were churned out in one day as part of that blitz earlier this year with advertisements on seemingly every platform possible – billboards, radio, television, print, and social media. Name a platform and the former senator has advertised on it.
One of the biggest questions is where exactly Palmer himself will land on the United Australia Party ticket. The UAP has announced candidates in most seats, but has left open the seat of Herbert in Townsville and its Queensland senate ticket. Winning Herbert requires a majority vote. At first it appeared he would announce himself as the candidate there, but it looks as if he’s now holding off after failing to shift public opinion in his favour after months of campaigning.
This underscores a fundamental point about a cashed-up campaign. Money can draw attention to issues, but it can’t reverse disinterest from the punters. And voters are well and truly off Clive Palmer after the collapse of his Queensland Nickel firm. It left 800 workers without a job and probably disqualified him from public office in the eyes of the electorate. He continues to fight liquidators in court.
Further, the narrative run by the UAP is not gaining the traction it did in years gone by. Broadly speaking, the party’s values could be described as economically populist. Fears of foreign investment and interference were popular themes in Australia ahead of the 2013 and 2016 elections. But with the passage of laws banning overseas donations and tougher talk from the government on China, interest in these issues has waned.
In the years since, right wing populism has moved to capture the culturally disengaged, appealing to latent racist sentiments in the electorate. It is a sentiment used by One Nation, and its repulsive offshoot Fraser Anning, who has now formed his own party. It is against them that Clive Palmer will compete for votes.
They might have less money than Palmer but Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning have gained far more media attention of late. The voters they engage will dismiss attacks on them by the media commentariat as bile from a system they see as stacked against them.
Fraser Anning’s horrendous comments about the Christchurch massacre would have seen his primary vote sky rocket in the parts of Queensland where he wants to win votes, likewise for One Nation after its scandalous and failed attempt to secure funds from America’s gun lobby.
A second tilt at politics for Clive Palmer will most likely end in millions of dollars down the toilet. He will spend big and probably gain no seats in the upper or lower house.
The greatest irony of Palmer’s campaign is that it will change very little besides gifting buckets of money in advertising to the very media organisations he has sworn to destroy. To paraphrase one of his self-written advertisements, Queensland’s not gonna cop it!