Millions around the country have been spammed in recent weeks by Craig Kelly, newly installed leader of the United Australia Party, the UAP.
“You can never trust the Liberals, Labor or Greens again,” read one text. Another pointed to statistics on how many have died after being vaccinated—without, of course, highlighting the fact that deaths after vaccination are not the same as deaths caused by vaccination.
The text storm is an early indication of how Kelly will try to fight the coming election, bankrolled by the UAP’s owner-operator, Clive Palmer, the seventh richest person on the 2021 Australian Rich List with $13 billion.
Kelly will pitch to the disaffected, the cynical and, above all, to the anti-vaxxers and those who think COVID-19 is a hoax or just the flu.
Palmer has been laying the ground for a while, paying for his distinctive black and yellow flyers to land in letterboxes across the country, for radio adverts to penetrate the regions and for front-page ads in all the major metro papers, all claiming vaccines are dangerous and the lockdown is destroying society.
No one expects the UAP to win seats. Kelly is unlikely to retain his seat of Hughes in southern Sydney, which he won as a Liberal at the 2019 election with 53 per cent of the vote—compared to 2.5 per cent for the UAP candidate.
Kelly is not popular there—it was only Morrison’s “captain’s pick” that saved him from being dumped by his local Liberal party.
But the fear is that Palmer’s real agenda, once again, is to block a Labor government by directing enough preferences back to the Coalition. In 2019, he spent $83 million on the UAP campaign to prevent Bill Shorten becoming Labor prime minister.
Palmer’s cash splash dwarfed the $69.6 million paid out to all parties and independents by the Australian Electoral Commission.
But did Palmer really win Morrison the election?
Asked that question on Twitter recently, Antony Green, the ABC’s respected electoral expert, replied: “The Coalition was already ahead on the primary count [in] every seat it won. Preferences were only icing on a cake already baked.”
If the UAP was going to make a difference, it was in the northern seats in Queensland. But the facts don’t back that up.
Take the seat of Herbert (Townsville), which Labor lost with a big swing. As preferences were distributed, the UAP candidate was knocked out before the Greens, with 25 per cent of his votes actually flowing to Labor.
In the seat of Flynn (Gladstone), the Liberals increased their margin by 7.6 per cent. The UAP’s 4.25 per cent flowed primarily to One Nation, although 20 per cent went to Labor. It was One Nation’s much bigger vote that got the LNP candidate over the line.
In Leichhardt (Cairns), a seat Labor had a chance to win but where they went backwards, the UAP won less than 4 per cent of the vote. Its candidate was knocked out of the preference count before both One Nation and The Greens. In this case it was the larger Katter’s Australian Party vote that saw the LNP ease to a win.
Labor’s rout in Queensland was not a result of the UAP vote and Palmer’s millions but of its inability to maintain a principled line on the Adani coal mine—disappointing both coal communities and voters wanting action on global warming.
Kelly will try to position the UAP to dominate the anti-vaxxer vote and attract One Nation supporters and disaffected Labor and Coalition voters along the way.
But it’s a small pool of voters. In the recent state by-election in the southern Brisbane seat of Stretton (very safe Labor), a candidate for the Informed Medical Opinions Party (anti-vaxxer) picked up just 616 votes. With no One Nation candidate standing, IMOP won barely half of the One Nation vote in 2020.
Palmer’s money can pay for advertising but it doesn’t inspire thousands to get out campaigning. Palmer is quietly allowing the UAP’s Queensland state electoral registration to lapse—getting 500 members seems too hard. New undemocratic federal legislation requires parties to have 1500 members or an MP, so recruiting Kelly sees the UAP maintain its registration.
There’s no doubt that Palmer will spend big again and Kelly will stir the depths in his bid for reactionary votes.
But as in 2019, Labor’s fate is in its own hands. If it fails to take on and beat this corrupt and lying government, it cannot blame the UAP.
By David Glanz