July 13, 2014 | Graham

Palmer in trouble in the Senate

All the media commentary I have read says Tony Abbott is the one with a problem in the senate, but that is to misread entirely what is going on. The person with the biggest problem in the senate is Clive Palmer.

PUP is a party that offers a cornucopia of policies, but in the real world workable and coherent policies are always scarce.

We have seen similar parties wax and wane in the past. First there were the Australian Democrats, then the Australian Greens. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was another but really only enjoyed substantial success in Queensland state politics.

Their attraction is always the same. They are parties of protest that for a segment of the voting population have the virtue of being “none of the above”.

Some voters support them because of their policies, but often an equal number, or greater, support them because they are a tool to send a message to the major parties. They are also a way of avoiding having to make a choice between two unpalatable alternatives.

To maximise their appeal as a protest party they have to be opposed to as many things as they can be. When they support particular policies, they lose voters opposed to those policies, because their voters are not interested in compromise.

The Australian Democrats were riding high until they became part of the machinery of government and cooperated with John Howard in the design of the GST. That was the beginning of their end. They went from having 9 senators in 1998 to almost ceasing to exist today.

Likewise the Australian Greens have suffered from being in a de facto coalition with the federal Labor party in the last parliament. In 2010 they won 13.1% of the vote, while in 2013 it was 8.65%.

Clive Palmer is in a different position to the Greens in that he isn’t in a de facto coalition with the government, but he has the same problem – if he appears to be in bed with the government he will suffer the same fate. This gives him an incentive to be erratic.

One also has to bear in mind that he draws just as strongly from disenchanted Labor voters as he does Liberal voters. He can’t afford to veer too much one way or the other as a result.

So, while Palmer presents difficulties for Abbott, the problems he has springing from the sort of constituency that he represents are far larger.

To keep things together he needs to agree to as little as possible, at the same time as he needs to appear to be doing something about the issues that matter to his voters.

PUP voters tend to come from outer urban and regional areas, and to be less economically secure than the mainstream.

If Abbott wants to tame PUP he needs to follow John Howard’s lead. Howard originally tried to tame One Nation by doing a preference deal with them (disastrously trialled in the 1998 Qld state election). His final strategy was to go directly after their voters. These became the Howard battlers.

If Abbott can target these same voters and make them the focus of his government he can gut PUP. He can also pull himself back from his current potentially fatal polling figures.

One issue they respond to is illegal entrants. While Abbott is performing well on this issue, imposing a Medicare copayment, and penalising their under 30 year old offspring by making them wait 6 months for unemployment benefits, has fired them up.

In this respect Palmer may actually do him a favour. These are parts of the budget that Abbott should be happy to see him block. If enough parts of the budget are blocked it could allow the government to go back to the drawing board and pull a budget together that is more electorally appealing, at the same time saying they have heard the people.

So even when Palmer acts in his own self-interest in opposing everything, he potentially puts in train events that will act against him.


Posted by Graham at 10:20 pm | Comments (14) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham, what you’ve put here is reasonably considered, but from where did you get the idea JWH negotiated a preference deal with One Nation and trialled same in the 1998 Qld state election?

    You may answer to my email address if that is suitable to you.

    David Oldfield.

    Comment by David Oldfield — July 13, 2014 @ 11:58 pm

  2. Pensioners have been alienated by the rather small change to the indexing of the pension that is proposed, also by the absurd spin from the hate media that they are going to instantly suffer from the Budget. A tweak here and better communication there should return most of the traditional Coalition voters in that demographic which will have a big impact on the polls.

    Comment by Rafe Champion — July 14, 2014 @ 5:31 am

  3. Hi David, what happened was that the LNP announced that they would, as a matter of principle, give preferences to One Nation in all seats before they preferenced the ALP. So it wasn’t a preference deal in the sense of being made behind closed doors, but a very public pitch to get ONP preferences.

    At the time I thought the Liberal Party State President had lost his mind, but I became aware some time later that it had been urged on them by the federal wing, and that Senator Nick Minchin had actually come up to Queensland to convince them to do it.

    The effect was to make ON more newsworthy than ever, and it also alienated a lot of the Liberals’ traditional supporters. The National Party, who were the senior coalition party, were also appalled.

    With a government in disarray, starved of oxygen by ON, and the debate centring around ON, they lost to Peter Beattie.

    That’s when the Libs came to understand that trying to get preference support was a lot harder than trying to win first preference support.

    Comment by Graham — July 14, 2014 @ 8:07 am

  4. Well if any self made man can please himself and change his mind as often as he wants to.
    It has to be a self made one born in a log cabin, created with his own two hands.
    Clive asked and asked for more assistants, so that the mysteries of the senate, wouldn’t be such a struggle for the new chums.
    And given most of that was request denied; Mr Abbott and the coalition are now the recipients of, embarrassing for them, delays.
    The PM, with his own personal staff in the hundreds, could have loaned a few of his more experienced helpers to the PUP, just so we could have avoided this schnozzle.
    It has to be very hard to sheet home blame to first timers.
    Even Tony made a few mistakes and took a few wrong turns when he started.
    It would have looked a little like a dogs breakfast, for the so-called, blame shifting negotiators, who shouldn’t simply take the PUP for granted?
    Which suggests they are only there for the salaries, and leather polishing.
    I don’t know if Tony will continue to have to back-flip on his timing or schedule?
    But if he would just supply a few more helping hands to those just finding their feet, he may experience fewer difficulties in the future.
    Blaming new chums for not knowing all the many rules and conventions, is like blaming the tide for rising!
    I don’t blame any member of the PUP, for not trusting the advise of those, welded to a particular preferred outcome, but rather, would prefer the sort of factual and fearless advice, of employed to know, public servants!
    And if they don’t have enough?
    Then I’m almost certain we can expect a patent plethora, of similar stupid stuff ups.
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 14, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

  5. The bottom line:

    Abbott claimed the carbon tax was causing crippling power bills.

    Palmer called him on that by agreeing to pass the repeal bill if Abbott would ensure that the gains from repeal would be passed direct to consumers.

    Abbott baulked at this (there is controversy over whether he said he would do so or not)

    Therefore his claims of crippling effects of the carbon tax on power bills was a lie which he could not afford to reveal (in my bills it accounts for less than a fiver per two months), or he was engineering a windfall for mates in the privatised electricity supply companies.

    I must say, Graham, that I am surprised you would attack Clive Palmer over his role in holding Abbott to his demonstrably fair demand. I hope Mr Palmer and others will go on spiking the guns that the Libs are directing against the least wealthy Australians while they blatantly favour those who receive the most wealth while personally creating none.

    Comment by Dion Giles — July 14, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

  6. “These are parts of the budget that Abbott should be happy to see him block.”

    If Tony Abbott is at all rational, he should be happy to see the PPL scheme blocked in the Senate.

    Also, if Abbott is serious about containing expenditure, he should make child daycare financial assistance subject to an HECS-type arrangement. Failing that, he should make it subject to means testing at the very least.

    Again, given that the ABC wants to compete with the commercial networks, and deliberately continues to breach its impartiality provisions, it should be privatised. Alternatively, instead of depending on taxpayer funding, it should be funded wholly by private subscription — this would make the real friends of the ABC stand up.

    Comment by Ray — July 14, 2014 @ 6:21 pm

  7. Dion Giles,

    Agreed, Coalition politicians have scored an ‘own goal’, the cause of rising electricity prices is over-spending on infrastructure, not the carbon tax, which the voters will soon discover.

    Abbott appears to think that the public has the attention spans of goldfish.

    Comment by RussellW — July 14, 2014 @ 8:04 pm

  8. Dear Dion and Russell, not sure how you guys lie straight in bed. Not only was the carbon tax a substantial part of electricity bills, but it was set to get even higher. That was the point of it. And if you want to dispute the government’s figure, take it up with the ABC Fact Checking unit as well http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-18/greg-hunt-tony-abbott-carbon-tax/5026782

    Comment by Graham — July 15, 2014 @ 7:39 am

  9. Graham,

    You have missed the point completely, the line that the ‘government’, such as it is, has been flogging, is that the carbon tax is responsible for the rise in electricity prices, it isn’t, the cause is structural change. The PM was reported on the ABC this morning as claiming a 9% reduction in prices, If that actually occurs, it’s a one off, prices will continue to increase. Those voters who were so naive that they believed that the Coalition would reduce power prices are going to be rather annoyed when prices continue to rise–‘just another Coalition lie’.



    Comment by RussellW — July 15, 2014 @ 11:52 am

  10. Graham, you have again missed the point, emphasised in the events of the last two days, that Mr Abbott had been banging on for months about how the carbon tax would mean a crippling rise in electricity bills for us hoi polloi, that Mr Palmer had said “OK, prove it by making the [privatised] supply companies subtract from their bills the amount that repeal of the carbon tax had saved each customer in each bill”, that Mr Abbott had baulked and Mr Palmer had blocked the repeal declaring in essence “No rebates no repeal”. It was plain enough but the talking heads couldn’t restrain their pontifications about the dreamed-of political consequences for PUP (while greasing around the question of making the suppliers put their money where Mr Abbott’s mouth was).

    So the Abbott crew was dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with Clive Palmer’s totally reasonable demands, the repeal has gone through, I look forward to the supposed $172 a year declared and itemised savings and will sleep very well indeed at night knowing that Mr Palmer, for whatever reason, has struck a blow for the people. I hope that Mr Palmer will in due course force Mr Abbott, still kicking and screaming, into a double dissolution and a Night of the Long Knives in the Coalition of the Lying’s party room.

    Comment by Dion Giles — July 15, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

  11. Trying to follow Mr Palmer’s moves, is like trying to catch the wind?
    This isn’t a rational human surely?
    The term Human yo-yo beckons?
    I mean, he seems to have more moves than Casanova?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 15, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

  12. @Allan B,

    Palmer is a very wealthy, once he’s had his fun, he will follow his class interests like any other oligarch, and side with the Coalition.

    Comment by RussellW — July 16, 2014 @ 9:53 am

  13. I have a solar system; and given the energy supplier has already ripped the miserable 8 Cents a kilowatt hour feed in tariff off me, just by changing my meter, [well the old one was going backwards,] along with the $100.00 rebate owing from from the first half of the year; [thanks to the old meter,] I won’t hold my breathe waiting for a full rebate.
    Even if Tony Abbott has promised it, or Clive Palmer announces at yet another photo op. that he will hold him to account over this and other promises!?
    If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one actual deed, must be worth a million!?
    A full %550.00 reduction, in the course of normal events, would make my feed in rebate, seriously larger, if I got the whole $550.00 dollars back, or indeed, the actual rebate!
    How can you tell if a pollie is telling pork pies?
    His or her mouth moves; and honestly, Mr Palmer seems to have more positions than the Kuma Sutra.
    If this rip off the pensioner policy continues, I will have to explore the battery option, and tell the power company, and the promise a day pollies, to get lost!
    But particularly at the very next electoral opportunity!
    Deeds, Mr Abbott, Mr Palmer, not yet more words!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 16, 2014 @ 10:46 am

  14. When Clive Palmer appeared with Al Gore pushing the ETS,I knew he was in this for the money. Rather disappointing but we should not be surprised.

    Clive wants to join the multi-billionaire club and we the people don’t really mean all that much to him,other than being pawns.

    Comment by Ross — July 22, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

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