View from The Hill

Palmer wants discussions on “an orderly way” to deal with legislation once PUP gets Senate clout

Clive Palmer describes his current relationship with the Liberal Party as that of a spurned lover. AAP/Alan Porritt

Clive Palmer describes the government as “stunned, like little rabbits”, after his PUP clinched a West Australian Senate seat to have an upper house bloc of four, including its ally Ricky Muir, of the Motoring Enthusiast Party.

“They weren’t expecting it to happen,” he says.

As July 1 and PUP’s role as a power wielder approaches Palmer is still pressing for extra staff resources to deal with legislation. He wants a conversation with the government about how it and PUP will handle their mutual political business in the new Senate.

“It would be helpful to have a discussion about the orderly way to deal with things in the future,” he told The Conversation. He doesn’t mind who the government designates for such a talk. Nor is he pressing for regular meetings with Tony Abbott – that would be up to the prime minister.

Palmer said there should be meetings between the relevant minister and PUP about bills as they go through the lower House, so the work of the Senate is not held up.

Despite the fact that PUP will matter on virtually everything that’s contentious, he doesn’t believe that managing the Senate team will take a lot of his time. “Unlike the other parties we’re not trying to push a political view – we’re just doing what’s best for Australia.”

With PUP support needed (though not sufficient) to pass any legislation opposed in the Senate by Labor and Greens after July 1, Palmer says: “We won’t be seen saying [to the government], ‘You do this and we’ll do that.’ We might say, ‘We can’t support this in its current form, for these reasons,’ and offer some suggestions.”

Asked earlier on the ABC whether he was still insisting the carbon tax should be scrapped retrospectively, he said that was the party’s position - “I have to talk to other members of the party to see what their views are and how we should approach it.” The government rules out acting retrospectively. “That’s not on the agenda,” Senate leader Eric Abetz told Sky.

Palmer was asked whether he would only pass the mining tax repeal if the government reversed its decision to take away a linked benefit for children of soldiers killed or incapacitated during service. “I don’t really want to be in the position of taking money from orphans whose parents have given their lives for Australia,” he said. This went to “the very morality of government”. (Only about 1240 children are involved at a cost of $260,000 so presumably this won’t be a stumbling block.)

The government expects PUP will support the repeal of both taxes.

It’s thumbs down from Palmer to Abbott’s paid parental leave, which would give wealthier women a maximum of $75,000. “Nothing” would entice him to support that. That is one piece of legislation where the government will be looking for an unusual partner, the Greens, who support the scheme in principle but want it made less generous.

PUP’s stand on particular measures in what is set to be a tough budget is unpredictable.

Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who also won with a big swing to him on Saturday, suggested that while its senators had six years PUP itself mightn’t last more than a year. “It’s hard to imagine a party being held together just by money, just by business interests,” Ludlam said.

But Palmer, who holds a lower house seat, is confident that the senators will vote together and stay together. WA senator-elect Dio Wang, who is CEO of Australasian Resources, majority-owned by Palmer, “has been known to me for 20 years”, while Queensland senator-elect Glenn Lazarus “is a friend of mine”. (The third PUP senator-elect is Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie.)

Palmer sees the WA swings against the major parties since the September general election (5.5% against the Liberals, nearly 5% against Labor) as part of a trend rather than a one-off.

“Changes are happening; the major parties are losing their grip on the electorate.” People are “fed up” and not prepared to “mindlessly” follow Liberal and Labor any more, he claims. PUP got a swing of 7.5% to poll 12.5%; the Greens swing was 6.4% for a 15.8% vote.

Palmer’s happy enough to tweak a few Liberal tails after a WA campaign in which he was accused by the PM and other Liberals of buying votes.

Estimates of how much he spent in WA have been around $5-6 million. He claims he doesn’t know the amount, but puts it at more like $2-$2.5 million. He raises the possibility of suing the Australian Electoral Commission for costs incurred in an election that was caused by its loss of votes.

“[The Liberals] have said some nasty things about me. They’ve been naughty boys and girls. They forget the Christmas presents we’ve given them over the years.”

Palmer, a long-time member of the Queensland Nationals before the Liberal National merger in that state and previously a big donor to the conservatives who trailed his coat for LNP preselection in the run-up to the 2013 election, describes his current relationship with the Liberals as that of a “spurned lover. I loved them for 40 years. There’s nothing like a spurned lover.”

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