Palmer & Co.

Rafi Alam met the big man himself.

Cartoon: Mikaela Bartels
Cartoon: Mikaela Bartels
Cartoon: Mikaela Bartels

Billionaires are like unicorns, in so far as you wouldn’t usually find yourself in a room with one. But Clive Palmer isn’t just ‘another billionaire’ – he’s also a celebrity, and with the formation of the Palmer United Party, a politician. When Clive Palmer took the stage, he spoke confidently, at ease, appearing to enjoy speaking to an audience of attentive – albeit suspicious – university students. Honi was fortunate enough to speak to him after the event.

He spoke at length about the need to change politics, to change the system from one of lobbyists and professional politicians to a parliament of ordinary Australians.

When asked about his asylum seeker policy – flying all potential asylum seekers to Australia, processing them in the airport, and flying back illegitimate refugees – he claims that his lenient policy meets approval in the public. “It’s not only compassionate, it also saves a lot of money for people,” Palmer argues. “We spend $5 billion to lock [asylum seekers] up and separate [them] from their families.”

Palmer is a contradiction. What was most striking about Palmer’s politics was the awkward balance between libertarian and interventionist politics. He’s happy with public financing and wants a pool of public money for new parties, and he’s opposed to the mining tax. He wants public funding and ownership of hospitals and schools, especially in Aboriginal communities, and he’s opposed to the carbon tax, or any specifically Australian-led climate change strategy. He wants to regulate the media and break up the Murdoch monopoly on the press, and he wants less regulation of the energy and resources industry. He wants to reverse the cuts to tertiary education, and he wants to make it easier for foreign corporations to invest in Australia.

But that’s because Palmer isn’t your usual billionaire-cum-capitalist. Palmer spoke out against the ultra-economic rationalist nature of Australian politics, saying that politics should be more about ideas and less about costing every single election promise. He also, surprisingly, said that it’s not all about the GDP, because a quality standard of living is more important than a balanced budget.

It was also tough to credit Palmer as a conservative or a radical. He wants to repeal the Electoral Act 1918 and the strict processes of registering as a new political party, but is fine with the current voting system, opposing proportionality. He spoke of progress, but constantly alluded back to the Anzac legend. He loves traditional Australia, but wants more multiculturalism.

One of Palmer’s rare breaks from his honest outspokenness was on the mining tax. He claims that he would be unbiased regarding the mining tax because “the mining tax would never apply to [him].” This is because he leases lands to miners, rather than controlling the mines himself. While perhaps not directly affected by the mining tax, it is indisputable that it would cut into his profits. This is something he was grilled by the audience on as well.

Palmer claims to have a candidate in every seat in Australia. With such wealth behind the party, and a well-known face to lead them, Palmer humbly predicts a victory in this upcoming election. With people’s disappointment in the ALP and the widespread animosity towards Abbott, perhaps this is more plausible than it sounds.

The interview was conduccted with Nina Ubaldi