Can Clive Palmer buy his way back into federal parliament? The former MP, who for a while wielded enormous Senate power, expects to spend about $55 million on an advertising splurge in his bid to do so – and a good deal more if that’s what is needed.
In fact, he says he has budgeted for $80 million for his United Australia Party’s campaign, although he doesn’t think so much will be spent.
The UAP has already expended some $31.7 million in the seven months to mid-April, according to Nielsen figures reported in The Australian. Palmer’s billboards are prominent in the southern states as well as in the north.
One of the major parties has found people in its tracking research recalling the Palmer ads, even singing along with the jingle.
The UAP – successor to the Palmer United Party – is starting to show up in opinion polling.
Palmer, who is running for a Senate seat in Queensland, tells The Conversation the UAP will stand candidates in all 151 lower house seats, and will be sending “every Australian [voter] how to vote cards directly”.
ABC election analyst Antony Green believes the only prospect for the UAP is a Queensland Senate seat. But Palmer “will be competing with One Nation, the Greens, the third Labor candidate, the third LNP candidate, Katter’s Australian Party. I can’t see how he outpolls the Greens or One Nation”.
Green doesn’t give Palmer much of a chance but prudently notes, “he’s proved us wrong before”.
Unsurprisingly, Palmer says: “We think we’ll win six Senate seats”.
In Senate polling done in February-March for the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank, the UAP was on 2% nationally, and 3% in Queensland. (One Nation was on 8% nationally and 11% in Queensland in this poll. In the latest mid-April Newspoll, One Nation was 4% nationally.)
In the Australia Institute polling last November, UAP polled 1% nationally and in Queensland. New polling about to be released by the Australia Institute will show the UAP vote continuing to strengthen from its position early this year.
The quota in a half-Senate election is 14.3%, but if Palmer got a vote of about 6-7% he would have a chance of a Senate seat. Even a modest Queensland UAP vote could be relevant in the lower house via preferences, although whether the voters would follow a ticket is another matter. UAP will announce its position on preferences later the week.
The Courier Mail’s national affairs editor Dennis Atkins says: “LNP people tell me they’re picking [the UAP] up at above 10% in some seats – they say it’s the usual coastal/regional suspects of Flynn, Capricornia, Dawson, Herbert and Leichhardt.
“Labor people say they haven’t seen the party at 10% but that he’s knocking on the door of that number. Both sides agree there could be a hidden Palmer vote which people won’t admit to considering.
“I think he’ll make an impact in quite a few seats and if everything went right for his party he could end up fighting [One Nation’s] Malcolm Roberts for the last Senate seat, presuming the Greens fall short.”
In the run up to the election, Palmer has promised to pay outstanding entitlements to people thrown out of work with the collapse of his Queensland nickel refinery in 2016.
In all the circumstances, the workers might have been sceptical when it was reported the payments would only come through after the election. Palmer says that some $7-8 million will be paid in the next week into a solicitor’s trust fund, which would hold the money until the claims were finalised.
Palmer is both undeterred and unchastened by his experience between 2013 and 2016. Of his three senators elected in 2013, two – Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania and Glenn Lazarus from Queensland – split away from PUP during the term. The third, Dio Wang, from Western Australia, was defeated at the election. Palmer himself did not recontest the Queensland seat of Fairfax that he won in 2013.
Palmer says the PUP was “naïve” in 2013 – it had only been formed shortly before the election. Lambie and Lazarus had no previous experience and “cracked under pressure,” he says. “The candidates this time are much more hardened”.
He stands by the PUP policy record in the Senate, which included torpedoing some of the harsher parts of the Abbott government’s badly-received 2014 budget and certain measures that would have wound back some of Labor’s climate policy architecture.
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.