Clive Palmer can’t stay out of the news. Winning Senate seats and establishing his franchise in the NT make it almost seem like he is part of the establishment.
This has some progressives wearing a wry smile. Unlike John Howard in 2004, Tony Abbott has no majority in the Senate. While Julia Gillard had to deal with a handful of disparate interests in the House, Abbott has to deal with Palmer, the DLP, the Libertarians and Family First. Welcome to your comeuppance I suppose.
Yet we should not be smiling. Harm to Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party is not an automatic win for the Labor Party. If the prevailing belief amongst hardcore political types is ‘politics as a zero-sum game’, we should reject this as wrong and damaging.
First, money in politics does not end well for progressives. The only reason Clive Palmer is strutting around the country, laying waste to politics as normal is cash. He has it and others don’t. He isn’t worried about it.
Perhaps this precedent is unlikely to be copied, especially on this scale. However Palmer has laid out the blueprint for candidates sniffing the disaffected vote. He is to political representation to what the anti-mining tax campaign was to political campaigning. Loud, brash, advantageous. This is not something to smile about. The uber-wealthy predominantly care not for progressive concerns. Political representation of this type ends up as an anti-politics. This is an anathema to Australian progressivism, whether it be social democrats or labourites. The government exists to help people, not as some kind of institution bought and sold for individual gain.
On Palmer specifically, while he may end up effecting some policy in a manner progressives would cheer (Parental leave, Direct Action), do not forget this is not a man driven by a holistic set of preferences and an ethical framework. He is irrational and driven by his personal animosity against the Liberal Party. All one needs to do is look at his previous record of political donations.
If this is something to cheer for in modern Australian politics, count me out. From the recent WA by-election, I would’ve preferred to see 3 Libs, 2 ALP and 1 Green than anything to do with the PUP. The PUP are a presence in Australian politics unlike other anti-establishment parties and they not a positive for the ability of Parliament to function effectively.
The Liberal Party under Tony Abbott might be reactionary and heavily conservative. But they have a set of beliefs which is articulated relatively clearly. They present an option for political representation. They are predictable to their supporters and opponents alike. Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz represent more conservative public attitudes while Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey represent a more affluent, ‘liberal’ attitude.
Clive Palmer does not represent such a constituency. His supporters, which at the WA by-election were numerous, are not a group of like minded people seeking the improvement of Australian public policy. They are disappointed by the status quo, sick of mainstream politics and easily roused by millions of dollars. Some say, who can blame these supporters for their stance. Others tut-tut their political ignorance.
Whatever one thinks of such a high number of people voting for the PUP, the sheer number means we all should think carefully about what this actually means, instead of simply smiling about the impact on Tony Abbott and the government.