One of the shocks of the election was the performance of Clive Palmer’s new party. It took 11.3 per cent of the vote in Queensland and looks set to win a Senate seat there and in Tasmania, and put Palmer himself into the lower house in the seat of Fairfax.
The fact that Palmer poured up to $3 million of his personal money into advertising no doubt helped his cause. (Mind you he will get over $1 million back in government election funding for crossing the 4 per cent threshold.)
He won votes by tapping into disillusionment with both the major political parties. Palmer attacked Labor and Liberal as virtually indistinguishable and “only interested in being elected and serving their own self-interests”.
His vote was not the only expression of the discontent with official politics. Nick Xenophon took 25.8 per cent of the vote in the Senate in South Australia, almost double when he was last elected in 2007.
Independent Andrew Wilkie retained his seat and increased his vote by 17 per cent in Denison, promising not to support either Labor or Liberal in the event of a hung parliament. The informal vote increased again, with ten seats in Western Sydney where over 10 per cent voted informal, many of them traditional Labor seats.
The Palmer Party appealed to the desire for an end to cutbacks and attacks on living standards, calling for a reduction in income tax, saying this would put $2500 back in the average voter’s pocket, a boost to the pension and putting an extra $80 billion into health. It also attacked Queensland Premier Campbell Newman for “selling our schools and hospitals and outsourcing services” including TAFE. All this helped the party pick up protest votes that previously went to The Greens, as well as votes from the LNP and Labor.
Palmer’s populism has a definite right-wing slant, such as his call for North Queensland independence and the inclusion of notorious right-wing ex-Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s son as a candidate.
And his break with the LNP was a product of a disagreement about what is necessary to maintain the mining boom, with Palmer promoting further economic stimulus instead of government cutbacks.
But without the cynicism and disgust that has developed against the political system, the Palmer Party would have gone nowhere.