Clivosaurus: The Politics of Clive Palmer
When the doyens of conventional wisdom – press gallery correspondents and has-been politicians who dominate Sky News and the ABC – look at Clive Palmer, what do they see? An eccentric billionaire, a conservative apostate, a man-child buffoon? It takes the sharp mind, and strategic distance from Canberra, of an outsider such as Guy Rundle to see in Palmer what others miss. “One layer down is a core set of values, which are close to the centre of Australian politics,” writes Rundle in his perceptive Quarterly Essay Clivosaurus.
Rundle’s key arguments about Palmer rely on observations that elude the critics. First, his “deals” to pass parts of the Abbott–Hockey budget rest on the principle that a government is entitled to enact the agenda it took to the people. So goodbye carbon and mining taxes. But where a government conceals its plans and lies to the public, the senate must frustrate, amend and refuse legislation.
Rundle’s second observation goes to Palmer’s ideology. “Beyond the obvious agendas of his business interests, score-settling and the need for attention, it’s Clive’s sense that he, and all of us, are here for a purpose that gives his politics a spin towards the left of centre.”
If you only think of Palmer’s sponsorship of Queensland’s Liberal National Party, or his stint as spokesman for the Nationals under Joh Bjelke-Petersen, you might conclude that Rundle is being counterintuitive or cutely contrarian. But if you consider that Palmer, while a “Joh man”, donated money to a Queensland Labor candidate, then later gave a tidy sum to a trade union campaign against public sector cuts and, most tellingly, began his political career in the Liberal Movement of the early 1970s, Rundle’s rationale is clear. The Liberal Movement morphed into the Australian Democrats.
Palmer has also imbibed enough Queensland populism – but the fun-loving populism of the Gold Coast circa 1975, not the fundamentalist Protestant populism of the interior circa 1955 – to challenge the Nationals. (Rundle characterises brilliantly their leader, Warren Truss, as the name on the toe tag on the corpse of an Abbott-compliant party.) And as he looks at the way Palmer is resisting “attacks on the universality of Medicare and unemployment benefits and the full marketisation of higher education”, he concludes that it’s this billionaire who could save the remnants of the “social democratic Australian state”. PT
Quarterly Essay, 128pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 22, 2014 as "Guy Rundle, Clivosaurus: The Politics of Clive Palmer ". Subscribe here.