Clive Palmer, who made headlines for installing dinosaurs at his Coolum resort and rebuilding the Titanic, is a skilful media operator whom politicians underestimate at their peril, observers say.
The tycoon’s fledgling Palmer United Party is poised to wield a significant amount of political power in Federal Parliament after an election which saw it winning more votes than many expected.
Mr Palmer may even yet be elected as MP for the seat of Fairfax on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, depending on a recount.
More significantly, his party appears likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate.
“I told everyone we’d win seats; I told everyone that we would address any concerns of the Australian people,” he told the ABC’s Australian Story.
“And they all said I was a fool, right, that I was kidding myself, right?”
Mr Palmer has demonstrated that he intends to be taken seriously.
“I think having the balance of power in the Senate does make us significant in the decision-making process,” he said.
“Nothing can be passed unless we vote for it. That’s the reality.”
Don’t get sucked in, Beattie warns
Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie told Australian Story that Mr Palmer is not a man to be underestimated.
“Clive’s no mug. People should be very careful they’re not snookered or sucked in by Clive’s tomfoolery,” Mr Beattie said.
“Don’t underestimate Clive. He’s got the greatest diversionary psychology going of any politician in Australia.
“Clive believes the best form of defence is attack.”
Mr Beattie described the party’s performance at the federal election as “extraordinary”.
“No first-term party like the Palmer United Party could be expected to get the sort of vote he got,” he said.
“If he ends up with three senators, he will be controlling the Senate.
“He will have the balance of power.”
Palmer party in name and in practice
And the former premier believes Mr Palmer will continue to dominate the party’s direction.
“Clive will run the agenda and his senators will do exactly what Clive asks or dictates,” Mr Beattie said.
“This will be Clive’s party not just in name, but in practice.”
“He will be a player in Canberra. He will be front and centre to the passing of legislations, and Clive will love every minute of it.”
Mr Palmer appears to be well aware that his public statements will continue making headlines if he does win Fairfax.
“I’ll be saying whatever I like. There’s no restrictions on me,” he said.
“They might throw me out of parliament!Â That would be good, wouldn’t it?
“I’d spend more time up here at the resort.
“But I’d still get media coverage for whatever I said.”
Public ‘wanted outrageous comedy in parliament’
Some of Mr Beattie’s concerns are echoed by Sunshine Coast-based playwright David Williamson.
“I think in some senses we are being played for fools,” he said.
“We’ve been sucked in by the vaudevillian entertainment side of Clive, but in so doing we’ve given him enormous power.”
He says Mr Palmer’s policy platform is ridiculous, but that the party leader is “the ultimate showman”.
“Comedies do four times better at the box office than dramas, and I think the public just wanted to see a bit of outrageous comedy in our parliament,” he said.
“We’ve given him enormous power to shape the direction of the country and I don’t think he’ll be shaping it in the direction of the common man, or what’s good for the common man.”
Major parties noticed Palmer’s success too late
Mr Palmer’s biographer, Sean Parnell, says the LNP made the mistake of underestimating the man who was once a life member.
“Many people were fed up with the major parties and Clive was able to capitalise on that, running positive ads where the major parties were going negative, drawing a protest vote from the left and the right,” he said.
“He really snuck in where the major parties weren’t expecting it.
“It wasn’t until the final days of the campaign when the major parties had polling that, hang on, the Palmer United Party was actually doing really well… by then it was too late.”
Parnell says it will be up to Prime Minister Tony Abbott to keep Mr Palmer under control.
“Tony Abbott is smart enough to know that he needs to keep Clive on side,” he said.
“At the drop of a hat, someone with his profile and his knack of dealing with the media can take attention away from the Coalition or can draw attention to negative aspects of the Government.
“So they’ll really have to manage him carefully.”