Clive Palmer: a threat to democracy

Clive Palmer’s advertising was everywhere, reported to have cost $60 million or more. Along with other features of this campaign, it led to the question being asked The Guardian ‘Designed to deceive’: how do we ensure truth in political advertising?.

Palmer says he is just doing what he can to make Australia a better place. The question is, for whom? Making Australia a better place apparently necessitated spending all that money to suppress the Labor vote to save the country from ‘Shifty Shorten’.

Now he says that Annastacia Palaszczuk is next, when Queensland goes to the polls next October:

    “Palaszczuk should be shaking in her shoes,” Mr Palmer said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review.

Palmer is a self-styled billionaire, but the Financial Review Rich List assessed his worth in 2017 after Queensland Nickel went bust as a mere $344 million. The liquidator is still after him for $250 million, plus he faces a further $300 million to clean up the tailings dam. Yet now the Rich List now puts his worth at $4.1 billion.

Mark Ludlow and Michael Bailey tell the story in the AFR.

Palmer often litigates, and often loses. However in December 2017 he won. CITEC, a Chinese developer entered into a royalty agreement with Palmer to develop his iron ore tenements in the Pilbara in 2006. The “A” royalty was an uncontroversial 30 cents per tonne of ore produced, adjusted annually for inflation. The “B” royalty was a multiple of ore produced and the iron ore price. CITEC argued this should be replaced by a mine profitability fraction when pricing regimes changed in 2010 with the introduction of spot prices.

The WA Supreme Court decided in favour of Palmer. The final appeal was dismissed last week, so Palmer got about $200 million in back payments. Now he has locked in a future royalty stream worth $400 million pa, rising to $600 as production ramps up. That will continue until 2044 if the price stays at around $US100 per tonne, more if the price goes up.

Palmer also owns four golf courses on the Gold Coast with plans to develop around 5000 apartments on two of them. That isn’t all, of course.

Among other interests, Palmer is proposing a monster coal mine just south of Adani’s Carmichael mine (see also What does Clive Palmer want? – Election 2019 follies 3).

The ABC reports

    Mr Palmer’s companies hold extensive coal exploration licenses in Queensland, with his company Waratah Coal proposing two coal mines and a power station in the Galilee Basin.

    The ABC can reveal that Waratah Coal has recently met with three State Government departments in two separate meetings to discuss the company’s plans for a coal-fired power station in the Galilee. (Emphasis added)

That is, a 1400-megawatt coal-fired power plant. Last year Palmer approached the Qld government about developing a 700-megawatt coal-fired power station in the same region, and was told:

    “We just do not need a coal-fired station in Queensland. We have the youngest, most efficient coal-fired fleet of power stations in the nation.”

The same answer was given when Palmer came back this year during the election period. However, Palmer is persisting with his proposal. What will be the Queensland government’s answer now, after the federal election?

I recall in 2017 Jim Soorley, who was on the board of CS Energy which owns the last coal power station built in Qld at Kogan Creek, saying that CS Energy looked at the possibility of building new coal to serve North and Central Qld. The economics just did not stack up.

It seems clear that Palmer is looking to install coal-friendly governments that will not only permit him to progress his plans, but might be persuaded to chip in some support from infrastructure funding.

Senator Canavan, who looks after the Northern Infrastructure Fund, and Angus Taylor, the minister for electricity prices, are more than likely to oblige.

If Queensland were wiped off the map,

as some south of the Tweed have suggested, Labor would have won 62-59 in a 121-seat chamber, with the 59 comprising 54 LNP, 1 Green and 4 Others, (Wilkie, Haines, Stegall and Sharkie), so Queensland matters. Australia, sans Queensland, voted for a Shorten-led Labor government.

In Queensland Labor suffered a 3.9% loss primary vote. Palmer, who did not run in 2016, gained 3.5%, and One Nation, which ran in 17 seats it did not contest in 2016, gained 3.4% to make their vote 8.9%, not far short of The Greens, who gained 1.3 to make 10.1%. The LNP only gained 0.6 to make 43.8, but Labor, already low, lost a further 4.2 to make 26.7%. If that doesn’t add up, Other, which would include Katter’s party, contesting mainly in the north, lost 3.2% leaving the category with 6.9%.

Queensland is complex, with multiple narratives, but overall preference flows are critical. Last election One Nation preferenced against sitting members, which helped Labor. Not this time. Palmer was new, and did a preference deal with the LNP, which further worked against Labor.

A big factor, however, leaving aside the fact that Bill Shorten personally found the going harder in Qld than elsewhere, was the dishonesty in advertising and in campaign statements.

I did not take much notice of Palmer’s adds, because I did not need my brain polluted with this dishonest garbage:

Ads like the one below were few and far between, but require actual reading to decode the message:

The message should have been, 10 million lower paid Australians will get better tax relief out of Labor. Even then we have more words than can be taken in by a three-second exposure, and what images would you use?

There was a torrent of Liberal Party adds using this photo-shopped image of Shorten in various formats:

Supplemented with adds like this one from the REIA:

And really ugly ones like this one from Cherish Life: which formed part of a half page ad in the Courier Mail during the week before the election:

The claim was that Shorten was going to introduce late term abortion laws allowing terminations up to the 37th week. I think it was Ed Husic who said he was surprised that abortions were an issue on polling day.

We hear that Boris Johnson could go to jail under UK laws:

    On Wednesday, a London judge ordered Johnson to appear in court over allegations that he misled the public during the 2016 campaign for the U.K. to leave the European Union. According to a summons by private prosecutor Marcus Ball, Johnson—a member of Parliament and former London mayor—“repeatedly lied and misled the British public as to the cost of E.U. membership,” falsely claiming that the country was paying Brussels 350 million pounds per week.

Applying such a law in Australia could cut a swathe through our politicians.

Penalties for false and misleading penalties after the event will not stop the bad behaviour. In my view we need prior fact checking and a clearance by a panel of visually literate ethicists.

During the campaign Labor took the view that they would spend their time talking positively about their own policies. As did Kim Beazley in 2001. Their defense and counters to attacks based on spurious and misleading talk, and outright lies, was poor. However, how could they defend an attack based on distorted visual imagery?

On the Q&A program immediately after the election, The Wash Up, a panel selected to review a Labor victory, Christopher Pyne defended the Palmer campaign, saying that Clive Palmer had the right to spend his money however he chose.

Yes, there were other factors, but Kill Bill worked. We have come to the point where a campaign can be run by a political party based on personal attacks and scare campaigns rather than policy. When this is supplemented by a billionaire with unprecedented funds mounting a direct and personal attack on the opposition leader in order to further his own commercial interests, our bright shining democracy starts to look like just another kleptocracy in a world where democracy is struggling.

16 thoughts on “Clive Palmer: a threat to democracy”

  1. I am amused by Angus Taylor’s insistence that the LNP has a mandate for its climate “policy”.
    Based on the Libs campaign, which in my experience didn’t mention climate at all, I would suggest the only mandate they have is to not be Bill Shorten.

  2. On the subject of Angus Taylor; today on Radio 2GB’s Ray Hadley Morning Show, Angus Taylor said:

    “We can’t get in the way, Ray, of getting new coal resources available for power stations.”

    He also maintains the federal government could still underwrite new coal-fired power stations.

    It seems Angus Taylor is ignoring the “Emissions Reduction” part of his new ministerial portfolio.

    There’s also an op-ed posted today at The Conversation by Quentin Beresford (Professor of Politics, Edith Cowan University) headlined If the Adani mine gets built, it will be thanks to politicians, on two continents. The article ends with:

    We are pawns in a larger, climate-destroying game.

  3. Angus Taylor is definitely ignoring emissions, and open about it, because false accounting and low-ball targets will do the trick.

  4. I remember reading something Al Gore said some time ago. The guts of what he said was that he was a bit behind in the polls and his advisers said something like “if you spend XXXX now your polls will go up by…… He did spend and the polls did go up as predicted. Money really can buy some votes,
    What you do about it is difficult. Was Palmer really spending $60m to support his own party or was what he did a backdoor way of supporting the LNP in return for coal mining concessions?
    Should the whole of the Murdoch press be seen as a branch of the LNP or a backdoor donation mechanism?
    What should we do about Getup and the minerals council?
    Does restraints on donations make it too hard for minor parties?
    All we can really say is that the last election was close and there were a range of things that affected the result in addition to the size of donations.
    Would be nice to have a political honesty law. should find out how they work in places like NZ.

  5. From a practical point of view, I just can’t see how a “political honesty law” could operate, to enhance truthfulness.

    Examples of the obstacles include:
    i) would the state fund mass surveillance of ‘social media’?
    ii) would the Ministry of Truth respond only to complaints? That favours parties with large budgets or thousands of scouts out watching, see i)
    iii) and who adjudges ‘honesty’? Where is a line drawn between exaggeration and fibbing?
    iv) never underestimate the doctors in the house: the spin doctors

    I think it’s an approach unlikely to improve honesty.
    Don’t get me wrong: I value honesty and detest dishonesty.

    As to election propaganda, let’s discuss it further.

    * * ** *** *****

    Freedom of speech has to be the highest value, IMO.

    Free speech was so hated and feared by the gerontocracy in the largest one-Party state, that the Chinese Army was sent to stamp out…. what? …. free speech, dissent, critique, and a giant papier mache statue, a Goddess of Democracy. By their deeds will you know the enemies of free speech.

  6. Quiggan on the economics of Adani and the other problems it will face to avoid a massive loss on investment. Who would want to see our government want to put money into something like this.
    Makes you wonder what Palmer thinks he has to gain from investing in the Gallalie Basin?
    Or what else he might get in return for the $60 m spent on the election?

  7. John Quiggin says “Without insurance, the project can’t proceed…”

    I wonder whether that is true.

    Quiggin also draws attention to the changed, shorter rail route to link up with an existing Aurizon-owned line. Quiggin says there is no agreement with Aurizon.

    As Quiggin says, we have to wait and see.

    No mention of the Aboriginal claim in recent times.

    Media Watch had a disturbing story tonight – Aunty bows to Adani. Seems a radio news story for Saturday AM because Adani complained to senior management about the journo’s said lack of balance. MW said of Adani:

    its latest success raises real concern. Because it involved allegations of inaccuracy and potential bias in a report that had not gone to air and that Adani had not even heard. Yet for whatever reason it led to the story from a young award-winning reporter being pulled.

    And that sends a terrible message to ABC journalists trying to do their job and also to ABC viewers who trust the ABC to give frank and fearless coverage of matters of public importance.

  8. John, I think Palmer is smart enough to know that he was unlikely to get anyone elected. Perhaps he thought he’d have a show himself.

    I think his main interest was to have a coal-friendly government.

  9. Ambi, I think I said earlier that my younger brother in handing out how-to-votes for the prepoll was disturbed at the material on display, red and black, labor colours, showing Shorten in a bad light. A Greens person was so upset she said she couldn’t sleep at night.

    A young woman from NZ, a conservative, over here to see how we do things, said that stuff would not appear in NZ because it would be illegal.

    Maybe they are just more civilised than we are.

    There must be such laws in other countries. I’ve heard about them in relation to one of the Scandinavian countries, just can’t remember which one.

  10. We had a problem with an independent at my polling booth who was wearing a tee shirt that could be easily mistaken as a Green tee shirt, a very green looking how to vote and, within my wife’s hearing implied that he was handing out Green how to votes. Our immediate response was to then hand out the Green’s how to vote and say that this was the “real greens how to vote”. Complained to the AEC booth supervisor who fixed the problem What I really didn’t like was the LNP black and white signs saying “stop Labor’s retiree tax”. they were often stuck in front of the Labor signs.
    Having seen how my mother in law got confused about what political parties say about what is going to happen to retirees I can imagine a lot of oldies thought that “Sneaky Bill Shorten” had introduced a new tax they hadn’t heard of.
    We do need truth in campaigning and truth in political reporting laws to at least do something to stop the real porkies.

  11. John, I think Labor has to take this issue up seriously. I think they have been reluctant to complain, because it sounds like whingeing. Shorten said the campaign had been “toxic at times” in his concession speech, but no-one has seen fit to expand on that.

    Since bad behaviour has been rewarded we can’t expect the LNP to change their behaviour.

    I associate the ‘anything it takes’ approach with (Sir) Lynton Crosby, who ran the campaigns for John Howard in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004. Crosby is now working to further the interests of Boris Johnson.

    By contrast Steele Hall, SA Premier from 1968 to 1970, fixed the gerrymander and lost the next election as a result.

  12. Brian: In The Case for 3 Member electorates I listed the following features of a good electoral system;
    TABLE 1.1: FEATURES OF A GOOD ELECTORAL SYSTEM FOR QUEENSLAND
    1. All voters who live in Qld have at least one local member.
    2. Government is awarded to the winner of the two party* preferred (2PP) vote.
    3. Who forms government is decided by the voters, not post election negotiations.
    4. The opposition is not reduced to a point where they will struggle to provide a viable alternative or effective opposition.
    5. All voters are important, not just the voters in marginal seats.
    6. Results do not depend on the location of electorate boundaries or differences in the percentage of voters for particular parties from electorate to electorate.
    7. Does not make it too difficult for independents or small parties to win some seats.
    8. Provides no incentive to vote strategically.
    9. One of the members in every electorate is a member of the government.
    10. Provides some check and balance on government decisions.
    11. The government cannot be blocked from raising the money needed to do its job properly.
    12. There are mechanisms for dealing with deadlocks.
    13. It is difficult for a vote of no confidence to force an early election.
    Perhaps we need to add a few more items to cover the things that shouldn’t be allowed to influence the results of an election. For example:
    1. Donations should be published as soon as they occur.
    2. There should be limits on the amounts that individuals and organizations can donate.
    3. There should be laws and significant punishments aimed at the tellers of lies/misleading statements. This includes the media. Significant punishment may include changing election outcomes.
    4. Restrictions on political spending both by candidates, political parties and others. (A campaign by coal companies against climate action is an example here.)
    5. Controls on just what can be done near polling booths with booth supervisors expected to monitor and act.
    6. Severe punishments for the releasing dirt on candidates too close to an election for the target to adequately respond.
    Easy to say but hard to sort out the details.

  13. John, we are going to a Ryan electorate ALP washup on 17 June. I don’t know what their focus will be, whether it is on Ryan campaign tactics, or broader issues. However, I think Labor and the Greens should both be looking at systemic and structural issues, because democracy is not working well at present.

    In the CM today Paul Williams says 9% of registered voters did not vote. Less than a quarter of electors are actively engaged in politics, around a quarter are totally disengaged. The Libs have been winning by trashing the system.

    Donations should be published as soon as they occur.

    Something strange went on there. The expectation was that Labor would have the advantage, but it seemed the LNP had multiples more cash than the ALP if you go by what happened.

  14. Funny how when ALP win it’s a triumph of democracy but democracy is broken when they don’t.

    I agree that donations should be published as soon as possible but that doesn’t capture non party activists groups.

    The Unions ran plenty of anti-Howard adds in 2007. Our TVs up here were flooded but the was far less internet.
    Also the free advertising and activism by media outlets would be impossible to quantify accurately.
    The ABC even wrote and timed a miniseries called “ Bastard Boys “ to coincide with the election campaign.

  15. Jumpy, the last time Labor won on a scare campaign was 1993, when PJK used a scare campaign on Hewson’s GST, a policy he had himself supported in the 1980s. However, Hewson’s 600 page Fightback policy was truly scary.

    Rudd in 2013 tried to scare people, saying Abbott and Hockey would “cut, cut, and cut to the bone”. Turned out he was right, as Hockey’s 2014 and subsequent budgets have shown.

    Negative lies about the other side have become the MO of LNP campaigns.

  16. Well, we can look into what was “ cut, cut, cut to the bone “ in reality another time, I’m not convinced it was as bad as reported.

    I cant remember an election campaign that both sides didn’t lie their arses off.

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