Today, to the amazement, but apparently to many on social media not shock, the billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer announced at a press conference this morning that he would be seeking preselection for the seat currently held by the Gillard Government Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Many are treating it as gospel that Mr Palmer will be the one to take on Mr Swan in the Queensland electorate of Lilley, despite the fact that he has just self-nominated for the preselection race.
Those in the commentariat who have already conceded that any other LNP member who is standing, or will put themselves up for the party nomination would do well to remember a recent precedent that was set in recent history within the party.
Prior to the 2010 federal election the senior federal MP Peter Dutton, now Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing stood for preselection in the safe LNP electorate of McPherson after the retirement of Margaret May, doing so after his electorate of Dickson saw redistribution turn his seat won from Cheryl Kernot of the ALP, into a notional Labor division.
Despite his standing within the party, including his position and the support of the Liberal Party leader at the time and former Prime Minister John Howard as well as that of the retiring representative of McPherson, the senior Liberal lost the campaign to local businesswoman Karen Andrews.
Clive Palmer too, is considered a prominent LNP member and voice, albeit for different reasons to Mr Dutton. The mining billionaire Clive Palmer is the biggest single donor to the LNP, having given more then $3 million to the LNP. That sum has, rightly or wrongly led to complaints of Palmer “buying the party” and/or “buying influence” within the party.
Today, despite that supposed influence, the response from within the party at the federal level to the announcement has at best been lukewarm, with Liberal Party MPs probably cautious after the recent comments from Mr Palmer about the Greens and a supposed CIA link.
Like the McPherson example, the LNP in Lilley may well and probably should go for a grassroots, local candidate for the electorate, as opposed to a non-local. Yes, the margin is slim, sitting at only 3.18%, well within reach of a Liberal Party Opposition that seems all but poised to take government at the next election, whether it be in 2013 or sooner. It has been held by the Liberal Party before, as recently as 1996-1998.
The LNP, especially in an electoral division like Lilley, with a mix of middle and working class voters, would do best to have a candidate not just from the area but that whose background best fits the needs and aspirations of the voters in the electorate north of the Brisbane River.
But alas, again a warning. This is just an announcement of candidacy for preselection, it is far from a fait accompli that the colourful character Clive Palmer will be the candidate for Lilley at the next federal ballot. Precedent stands in the way of a certain Palmer candidacy and there are still processes that need to be gone through before anyone can say, “I told you so” or otherwise.
Another week in Australian politics and more sensational events which have overshadowed inter-party politics and policy for another seven day period. But this week has been different. A leadership challenge is now afoot
The week began with Kevin Rudd in Mexico G20 Foreign Minister talks followed by the now famous trip to the United States of America.
Little was said by Kevin Rudd about the G20 talks and the same went for his trip to the United States, though meetings he was there for were of a high-level nature, including meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
But then came that bombshell that changed the complexion of the rest of the week. Kevin Rudd called a late night press conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC with reporters over there covering the trip scrambling out of bed, rushing to get to what was sure to be a press conference of major significance, given the time and location. Kevin Rudd was resigning his post as Foreign Minister as the position had become untenable in recent weeks with colleagues openly and privately telling him to throw out his leadership ambitions and Rudd saying he did not have the support of his ministerial colleagues.
From the speech onward you knew that was far from the end of this epic story of a party in trouble not least because of leadership tensions in existence within the party- which usually do no de-stabilise this much. Kevin Rudd was to return to Australia on Friday where he would make a definitive statement on his future, which everyone knew, was almost certainly going to be a tilt for the leadership.
The Prime Minister then came out and announced that on Monday at 10am AEDT there would be a leadership spill and that she would be contesting that ballot. Senior Ministers then began filing out one by one in support of the Prime Minister even before Kevin Rudd confirmed he would contest the leadership vote.
That confirmation from Kevin Rudd came from the second press conference he held on Friday, after his return from overseas, where he outlined his vision for the future and canvassed some of the things he regretted from his past time in the Prime Ministership.
Prior to the official announcement by Kevin Rudd of his part in the ballot, ministers like Kim Carr and Robert McClelland gave their support to the former leader in the event he ran.
On another front, Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister under Prime Minister Julia and Assistant Treasurer under Prime Minister Rudd indicated that he would encourage the former Prime Minister to run, all but indicating formally that he would support Mr Rudd in the ballot.
But it was Saturday that saw the Rudd camp attract its most high-profile Cabinet supporter, in one Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and the Leader of the House, a day which also saw Senator Mark Bishop, a Gillard backer in the last ballot, switching sides.
The battle looks set to be a win for Julia Gillard to continue her Prime Ministership, looking like polling about 2/3 of the caucus vote on Monday. Though how this could really be seen as a win for Gillard, 30 odd is still a significant number that just contributes to the already toxic image of the Labor Party and damage done to Labor that will just be made even worse when it comes to light during the parliamentary week ahead.
In other news the Gonski Report into education funding was released this week but obviously completely overshadowed by the leadership tensions especially because the Gillard Government has not yet even committed to anything recommended in the report.
The only thing the government has said is that independent schools will not lose a dollar of funding and this would certainly add to the budget woes of the government were it to take immediate action which they need to do at least in the area of disability and indigenous loading.
The week has been dramatic, certainly the most dramatic since the leadership coup in 2010 in my relatively short time observing and commenting on politics from Canberra. Even after tomorrow the story will be far from over with Rudd seemingly likely to continue his campaign to become Prime Minister. I can smell the Labor Party rot from here.