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Forget contesting Lilley, Clive Palmer should stick to his day job

Clive Palmer should probably stick to what he’s good at. AAP Image/Dan Peled

Mining magnate Clive Palmer has put his name forward to run for the Liberal National Party (LNP) against Treasurer Wayne Swan in the Queensland seat of Lilley at the next election.

Palmer has been a vocal supporter and member of the LNP, and assisted Queensland premier Campbell Newman in his campaign against Anna Bligh earlier this year.

The Mineralogy owner said he wanted to run in Swan’s seat of Lilley because he and the Treasurer had “different visions of where this country should go”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has since hit back, saying the Liberal Party now stands to become “a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr Palmer” while opposition leader Tony Abbott has said Palmer’s announcement took him by surprise.

The Conversation spoke with the head of the Australian Catholic University’s public policy institute, Scott Prasser about Palmer’s latest pitch.

Do you think today’s announcement by Clive Palmer is a stunt or a genuine expression of interest to contest the seat of Lilley for the LNP?

He’s indicated he’s a supporter of the LNP, he’s been a big donor to the LNP. He has, like a lot of business people, political aspirations.

So now that he’s made a public announcement, we’ve got to take it at face value as [Palmer] genuinely throwing his hat into the ring.

Are the LNP likely to endorse him as a candidate?

Rod McGarvie, who ran for the LNP last time, did a reasonable job. He’s going to be running again for the nomination.

The other thing though is that political parties have always got to be out there recruiting big names, competent people. Whether they see Clive Palmer in that category, well, first he’s a business man and business people don’t always make good politicians.

Second, his mega-star status might make him more of a problem than an asset to a political party. Mega-stars don’t always want to follow orders or be part of the team. They want to start their own team.

So I don’t necessarily think the LNP will rush to support Clive. There would be a lot of negatives for them. But they have to handle this very carefully. They don’t want to turn Clive off, because he has been a big donor in the past. And he’s a big mover in the mining industry in Queensland. So it puts the LNP in a bit of a dilemma.

Could his nomination be seen as a boost for the LNP at all?

I see it more as a hindrance. I don’t think voters, non-Labor voters, necessarily are enamoured with big tycoon types wanting to get into parliament.

Some of those tycoon type people are moderate in their behaviour, and very reasonable. But Clive Palmer has got some interesting views on a range of things. We heard his comments about the CIA and the Greens before the Queensland election.

Clive has no trouble playing his own trumpet. But he’s not necessarily the kind of person voters want. His immense wealth makes him atypical – he’s not your typical suburban family man. Voters like to vote for people they can identify with. It’s hard to identify with someone who’s worth $600 million.

Given Palmer’s business interests, would he have conflicts of interest if he entered parliament?

As a parliamentarian by himself, he wouldn’t have any conflict of interest. But if he got into a position of authority or decision-making, like a minister [he would]. If he was minister for mining I think there would be a huge conflict of interest.

But at the same time, we do want people from all walks of life to be in parliament. We don’t just want people from one category.

That’s one of the problems with parliament at the moment, more and more parliamentarians come from a narrow base. We want more people with different work and life experience.

So it wouldn’t be any more conflict of interest than someone like Bob Hawke, who was the former head of the ACTU. That could have been seen, and was seen, as a conflict of interest in certain circles. But Bob was able to rise above that in some of the policy decisions he brought in.

If the LNP were to endorse him, what would his chances be if he ran in 2013?

Lilley will be one of the seats, given the current low opinion of the Gillard government of which Mr Swan is an intergral part, to fall at the next election.

To borrow from Bill Hayden, maybe a drover’s dog could win it.

But Mr Palmer could be a turn-off to voters. It could be the saving grace for Wayne Swan. So Wayne Swan might say, “Bring it on, you’ve just answered my dreams. Here’s a candidate who I can make a lot of fun of, and I can point out he’s not typical,” as distinct from other candidates the LNP might have who are seen as more mainstream.

Any advice for Clive Palmer?

People should stick at what they’re good at in life. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t enter politics. It’s an honourable profession contrary to what a lot of people think.

There’s no money in it, most middle-level public servants earn more than politicians, and they don’t have to put up with the vaguaries of the job.

Mr Palmer is good at making money mining. He’s done very well. And I wish him congratulations on all that – it’s part of the Australian dream. He hasn’t come from a necessarily wealthy family and he’s done it. He’s done a great job getting mining going in Queensland, securing development and creating jobs.

But I don’t think he personally has got the range of skills needed to be a politician. Business people often make the worst politicians because they’re used to making decisions on a very narrow basis – will it make a profit? And you expect people to always obey orders.

Politics and policy is about a different sort of process.

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