How Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party could impact the May 21 election

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Clive Palmer is an Australian mining magnate with big ambitions. He once talked about cloning a dinosaur from DNA to build a real “Jurassic Park” and vowed to rebuild the Titanic from scratch. (He opted for robotic dinosaurs for his Palmersaurus theme park, which later flopped. And a decade after he announced it, his replica ocean liner has yet to hit the water.)

In 2013 Palmer made his first major foray into national politics, including a brief stint in the balance of power in the Australian Senate. He spent millions campaigning in the previous federal election in 2019, but his party failed to win a single seat. His brash political style and populist rhetoric have drawn comparisons to former US President Donald Trump – and now he’s back, promising to ‘make Australia great again’.

While the odds of Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) winning even a single seat in Saturday’s federal election are slim, he has spent big in some tight races. One of UAP’s populist campaign videos on YouTube has been viewed nearly 25 million times, in a country of just under 26 million people.

Its biggest impact could be an election spoiler: Palmer recommended voters rank the ruling centre-right Liberal-National coalition against the centre-left Labor opposition in several key races, a decision that improves the odds return to power of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. .

Palmer, 68, became a billionaire through mining interests in iron ore, coal and nickel. In March, the Australian newspaper estimated his fortune at around $13 billion, thanks to a boom in mining royalties, although Forbes values ​​his empire at $2 billion.

The Queensland-based tycoon is no stranger to controversy. He sued the state of Western Australia for closing borders during the pandemic. (He lost.) Palmer has also spoken out against coronavirus vaccines and is unvaccinated. (The country uses internationally approved vaccines, including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca.)

Palmer has become increasingly populist in recent years, drawing inspiration from pro-Brexit lawmakers in Britain and Republicans in the United States, including Trump, said Glenn Kefford, a policy expert at the University of Queensland.

At times, however, his ideology is harder to pin down: In 2013, Palmer ran on a platform to bring in more refugees, just as the coalition and Labor parties were cracking down on asylum seekers and arriving refugees. by the sea.

“He’s an enigma in many ways. The actions he takes don’t always seem thoughtful or strategic. Sometimes they seem to be reactionary, spontaneous and emotional,” Kefford said.

What is Palmer’s United Australia Party platform?

Populist messaging is a key part of UAP’s strategy. Earlier in the pandemic, party members joined anti-lockdown movements across the country and railed against government-imposed vaccination mandates and passports.

In April, Palmer said only the UAP “could save Australia from the economic catastrophe imposed by the Liberal and Labor governments” – referring to the deficits racked up by ruling administrations respectively during the coronavirus pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis.

Recently, on Sydney Airport Road, a giant billboard emblazoned with the party’s bright yellow signature read, “SAVE YOUR HOME. Maximum mortgage rate at 3% per year. Vote 1 United Australia Party. UAP promises to cap mortgage interest rates at 3% for the next five years; in reality, benchmark rates are set by the country’s Independent Reserve Bank, which recently hiked interest rates amid the election campaign.

UAP leader Craig Kelly on Monday defended campaign posters suggesting he could be the next Prime Minister, telling Sky News Australia: ‘We are fighting; it is not a two-horse race. (Some analysts don’t even wait for it to win his own seat.)

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What does Clive Palmer think of women?

Palmer fielded a diverse mix of candidates in 2013, including many female candidates. He said Canberra needs to be more gender inclusive and that “Australia deserves to have the sage advice of all its people, not just some”.

But Jill Sheppard, a policy expert at the Australian National University, said Palmer did not have a feminist agenda. “For a lot of Australian voters, Clive Palmer is a quintessential businessman. He’s very masculine,” she said.

Its approach to politics is largely transactional, said Kefford of the University of Queensland, who has interviewed many former UAP candidates for a research project.

Prime Minister Morrison’s handling of complaints of sexual harassment and abuse was in the spotlight during the campaign.

How could Palmer and the UAP affect the Australian election?

Palmer’s party is fielding candidates for every upper and lower house seat. And though his candidates weren’t expected to win, Palmer played spoiler, attacking the policies of the major parties and presenting the UAP as the only viable alternative.

“The whole political class has turned against the people. We know we can never trust the Liberals, Labour, Greens or Nationals again,” Palmer said in December.

In 2019, Palmer helped spread baseless claims on social media that Labor was planning to introduce a “death tax” or inheritance tax, if elected. The misinformation hurt the opposition party’s standing with voters and was a factor as it ultimately lost an election it was widely expected to win.

Still, some experts expect Palmer’s impact to be limited in a robust democracy where voters generally don’t stray too far from the political center.

“Money doesn’t get you very far in Australian politics,” said Sheppard of the Australian National University.

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