Clive Palmer and the truth of Australian politics

Does Clive Palmer express the truth of bourgeois politics? For those not in the know, Clive Palmer is the billionaire miner who leads a brand new political party called PUP, the Palmer United Party. Formed only 12 weeks before the elections on 7 September, he managed to snare a seat for himself in the lower house and two or maybe three members of his party will be senators. In the senate his party may well end up with the balance of power. All legislation will need his personal approval. But the gargantuan Palmer, who made his billions through mining, is also sponsoring a rebuilding of the Titanic, and is constructing the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park on the Gold Coast. Some have dismissed him as a clown, but others know that he is a pretty cunning operator.

So how did win so much power in such a short time? Money. He pumped millions into all sorts of election campaigning, even side-stepping the media ban four days before the election by running ads for his Coolum resort (where the dinosaurs are headed) on the Gold Coast. And publicity. He knows how to keep his message out front, both by buying media time and by giving the message bite. And manipulation. With the votes in his own seat coming down to the wire, his party put immense pressure on the Australian Electoral Commission, questioning more than half of the almost 90,000 votes twice. Analysts suggested this was a calculated abuse of the process in order to get the desired result. And disillusion. For many traditional Labor and Liberal voters, he provided that authentic edge: an outsider taking on the grey establishment. With Palmer and his sidekicks in parliament for the next three or more years, he’ll make sure the politics will be colourful, since he has promised to give Tony Abbott a hard time.

So how does he express the truth of Australian, and thereby bourgeois, politics? It’s simple, really. The big capitalists have always manipulated results to their own liking. The difference is that the main parties have traditionally hidden behind the screen of electoral commissions and such like, desperately creating the illusion that they keep the influence peddlers at arm’s length. Palmer has openly shown his disdain of the electoral commission as an unnecessary encumbrance. Money is the obvious one here too, but with an intriguing twist. Of course, money always buys elections, but the parties pretend it doesn’t through the ludicrous system of ‘donations’. This sets up the entrenched pattern of corruption, with ‘donations’ channeled in all sorts of ways to avoid scrutiny. By contrast, Palmer has abolished corruption in one simple move. The mining tycoon no longer needs to ‘donate’ to a political party; he becomes a political party himself. He is donor, lobbyist, and politician all rolled into one.


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