By Situation Theatre 15/5/2019
A mining magnate who stole his party name from the 1930s, took his slogan from a reality TV President, and ripped his advertising budget from 800 of his own workers, can do so with reckless abandon because “there’s no limits”. We must change the system which feeds him.
Clive Palmer started early with his all-out advertising assault on Election 2019.
By early January, his campaign had already sent unsolicited text messages to 5.6 million mobiles and received 3000 complaints in response. Many of these unwanted texts pledged to ban such messages in the future.
More than happy to have their campaign paraphernalia made in China, United Australia Party advertising claims “Chinese Government-owned companies, backed by unlimited cash, have invaded our country and corrupted our political process”.
Incidentally, Palmer has said this about his astronomical ad buy,
“We're spending money and we've got a lot of money to spend. There’s no limit to how much we will contribute, I’ve put no limit on it.”
Much better to have home grown companies corrupt the political process with unlimited cash.
Also in January, Palmer launched a video game he had funded starring a cartoon version of himself accumulating “biscuits” by destroying a Bill Shorten-headed cockroach. According to the SMH, “Mr Palmer said the cockroach in the game originally bore the face of The Project host Waleed Aly, but he asked for this to be changed because his wife likes Aly.”
And there you have Australian politics in one fucked paragraph folks.
The always sober Lenore Taylor described Palmer as a “mega-rich and megalomaniac anti-politician” who “has taken the entire political system for a ride”.
Not that he cares, telling Deborah Knight of the Today show “My wealth is $4,000 million. Do you think I give a stuff about what you personally think or anyone else...”
Since he began this campaign, the sleepy billionaire has spent close to $60 million of his own money on print, television, radio, online, text, and video-game advertising for his own party. That figure is more than the major parties have spent on advertising combined. It’s kind of surprising we haven’t seen him make a sponsorship deal with the sun.
It’d be bad enough if all this was bought and paid for by the Son of God himself, announcing his imminent return to Earth to save us all. No one wants to non-consensually see that much of anyone, even the big JC.
But at the risk of writing something controversial, Clive Palmer is not Jesus Christ.
He’s more like the worst boyfriend you’ve ever had, who you dumped three years ago. Then suddenly late last year he started calling again and hasn’t stopped, promising to pay you for sex.
No thanks Clive, I’d rather join a ferocious pack of rats in eating my own face.
We know this man is a bad actor with malign intentions.
He cut his right-wing populist teeth beside National Party premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Petersen and became one of the biggest donors to conservatives in Queensland. His 2013 political bid was spurred by a lover’s tiff with Campbell Newman over access to the Galilee Basin.
In the 2013 election, he bought the balance of power in the Senate for $28.9 million. His senators supported abolition of the mining tax and carbon price as well as implementation of the Coalition’s bogus Direct Action plan. In his three years representing the voters of Fairfax he cast a vote in 6.8% of divisions, most of which related to sabotaging climate action.
His business career is even more chequered, as summarised by the ABC.
The many controversies and untrustworthy business practices… include the debacle over the Coolum Resort, which closed under his management, costing 600 jobs and leaving over 300 investors without their assets. He was widely blamed for the collapse of his nickel refinery in Townsville (which he took on to "save") and for not paying workers their redundancy entitlements. He has also been linked to a stalled Titanic II project, killed off a Gold Coast A-League soccer team...and been charged by ASIC with violating the Corporation Act. He has also transferred some of his business interests to the tax haven of Singapore.
Meanwhile The Guardian reports,
Special purpose liquidators are chasing $200m paid by Queensland Nickel to Palmer and related entities before it went into liquidation. And in a separate federal court case the commonwealth is attempting to recoup the $67m it paid workers under the fair entitlements guarantee.
So instead of reimbursing the government the $70m he owes them for paying worker entitlements or the $7000 he still owes for overspending on his staff travel budget last time he slept in Canberra, he’s spending $60m raising awareness of the colour yellow.
While the big man could afford a break from politics with the conservatives in power in recent years, now that climate action is back at the forefront of popular consciousness and a Labor government is likely, the spectre looms of a mining billionaire stepping out from behind the curtain to once again control our government for the benefit of the cameras.
House and Senate seats would be a real leg up for Clive’s proposals for two huge coalmines in the Galilee Basin, including the Alpha North project, which would entail a whole bunch of open-cut and underground mines covering 144,000 hectares and producing 33% more coal than Adani’s mine.
But to fixate on Clive Palmer’s cruel intentions is to miss the point.
Charlatans like Palmer only thrive in a broken system. It’s the system we need to fix.
If Australia is a democracy by anything more than name only, it should not be legal for a mining billionaire to spend unlimited millions buying his way into Parliament purely to reign down carbon bombs upon the Earth.
According to the Australian Open Government Partnership, there are “many weaknesses of the Australian national political campaign financing regime which compares badly with comparable democracies (e.g. UK, Canada) and ranks poorly in international assessments published by bodies such as the Electoral Integrity Project, International IDEA and Transparency International”.
So, what is to be done?
Clearly, we need serious campaign finance reform, the nature of which should be open to good faith debate.
The Greens Donations Reform Bill is an excellent place to start.
The Greens Donations Reform Bill would ban political donations from mining, development, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, banking, defence and pharmaceutical industries. We would also cap all other donations (including from individuals, unions and charities) to no more than $1,000 per year.
The Greens’ Political Donations Enhancing Transparency Bill resets the disclosure threshold at $1000; prevents ‘donation splitting’ by requiring all donations from a single donor in one financial year to be accumulative; bans donations from foreign interests; bans all anonymous gifts above $50; and tightens up penalties.
The Open Government Partnership also has a list of nine recommendations around transparency, limits to donations and campaign expenditure, and serious penalties for breaches.
The idea of full public funding of elections could also be debated, but this is rare on the global stage and according to some well-informed progressive voices, such as UNSW Law Professor George Williams, this is for good reason.
If nothing else, Palmer’s yellow carpet bombing of the entire Australian continent has at least communicated to every Australian the urgent need for austere caps on budgets for campaigns in general and political advertising in particular.
Voters should be judging politicians based on their records and their policies, not based on unsolicited texts, virtual biscuits, and repeated exposure to bright colours.