Clive Palmer Is Trying A Comeback And He Memes Business
Clive Palmer -- controversial mining magnate, trouble magnet, self-professed 'meme merchant' and failed politician several times over -- is deep into his latest campaign for high public office.
It would have been impossible to avoid his expensive promotional spend in recent weeks -- his bizarre social media graphics or videos, his TV ad jingles that flirt with copyright infringement, his optic nerve-assaulting canary yellow billboards, or having your phone invaded by one of his spam text messages.
Under the banner of his newest political venture, as he resurrects the name of the old United Australia Party, Palmer candidates will supposedly run in all 151 House of Representatives seats at the coming federal election, due by May -- including Palmer himself, who wants to run in the Queensland electorate of Herbert.
But experts say Palmer has more chance of being picked as a wildcard for the Australian Open tennis than winning the seat. Despite Herbert sitting on a knife-edge margin after the last election, with Labor's Cathy O'Toole winning by just a few dozen votes, a crowded field of major parties and independents will contest the seat in 2019.
"Independents and minor parties don't win marginal seats -- that's the rough rule," the ABC's election guru Antony Green said in a Sydney Morning Herald article this week, reportedly rating Palmer's chances of winning as "nil".
Palmer is splashing out big bucks on blanket coverage TV ads in lucrative timeslots, including during the tennis, and on huge billboards at busy roadside locations. So, considering the blunt assessment of his chances by Green, it begs the question: what's he playing at?
Palmer's resurgence as a political animal came via unlikely means.
After his Palmer United Party stormed the parliament in 2013, picking up three Senate seats and Palmer himself winning the seat of Fairfax, the group crumbled.
Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus quit to start their own minor parties. Palmer's conduct in office, including a reluctance to even show up in parliament on sitting days, saw him turfed from office at the 2016 poll.
As quickly as it rose, PUP fell. Palmer has since spent more time in the courthouse than Parliament House as he answers a series of cases relating to his shuttered Queensland Nickel company.
It was through memes -- yes, sadly, memes -- that Palmer worked his way back up.
Posting a series of often indecipherable social media updates and photos, giving rise to jokes around "grog dog" (the dog that's on the grog), Tim Tams, pizza and more, the so-called 'Palmy Army' Facebook group swelled in size, as, mostly, young people delighted in the bizarre posts and memes.
Palmer supporter groups soon devolved into disgusting and offensive territory, with some memes making light of the Holocaust and gas chambers, joking about anti-Semitism, and adopting violent and vile alt-right imagery. Palmer sought to distance himself from such content, but it exposed an ugly side of Australia's political social media sphere.
Riding on the success of the (less vile) memes, Palmer's social media follower numbers swelled, currently sitting at 80,000 on Twitter and nearly 200,000 on Facebook. Palmer, a pariah and laughing stock for several years, was suddenly popular (albeit as a joke, and among a small slice of the population) and opportunity beckoned.
Palmer's re-entry to the formal political arena has been calculated. Since launching the party, he has snapped up former One Nation senator Brian Burston, giving UAP a presence in Parliament House before it even contested a single election or won a single vote.
Even the choice of the UAP name was shrewd, pinched from a party formed in the 1930s that boasted three Prime Ministers in its time. But the original UAP dissolved in 1945, with its members joining what is now the Liberal Party.
Palmer's current UAP seems to have no formal connection to the old UAP, besides a vague promise of conservative policies, but that hasn't stopped Palmer of talking up the history and links.
To be blunt, this seems all about attention and ego for Palmer. The man who twerked on national radio, who sings songs about himself, who has no problem poking fun at himself, wants to be nationally recognised and remembered again as not just a controversial mine owner or perennial courthouse occupant.
"We're spending money and we've got a lot of money to spend," Palmer said this week, confirming his minerals company was pouring cash into the advertising and campaigning. Mineralogy has previously dumped in nearly $4 million to PUP in a single year, so the war chest for the coming election may be large.
While other minor parties will target the Senate, aiming to get just a small percentage of hardcore voters interested with some niche issues, Palmer is going for House seats which are much harder to win.
His slate of policies, including vague promises around fast trains and supporting Australian jobs, haven't exactly set the world on fire.
It appears he's just trying to rip off a Donald Trump strategy -- a rich guy with a decent social media following and no major political background tries to storm the gates with rhetoric around stamping on the elites.
Palmer has even pinched Trump's campaign strategy, promising to 'Make Australia Great'.
Palmer's re-entry to politics has been loud, brash and visually assaulting.
Don't expect it to let up any time soon -- the campaign will continue for some time, with the election still up to four months away, so prepare yourself to hear those ads on TV for quite a while yet.