Critics at the time suggested Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer only entered politics to satisfy his personal agenda – a combination of Liberal National Party retribution, corporate greed and, most importantly, an inflated ego. If Palmer’s attendance in parliament is any indication, it seems the critics were right.
As reported in The Guardian, since entering parliament Palmer has had 196 opportunities to vote. He did so 15 times. Other independents, such as Cathy McGowan and Bob Katter, have voted 172 and 82 times respectively. In other words, Palmer has been absent for 92% of parliamentary votes.
Worse still, of the 15 times Palmer has graciously participated, 11 were on legislation that affected his business interests: five times for the repeal of the mining tax and six times for the repeal of the carbon tax.
Palmer appears most interested in democracy when its outcomes benefit him personally.
The magnate has repeatedly defended his non-attendance in parliament, despite calling it “pretty boring” and being caught napping. When critics first raised concerns, Palmer said the situation would improve once he’d made his maiden speech. “I’ll be there all the time,” he said.
But he hasn’t.
Not everything that happens in Parliament is of any substance or any reality… But what’s more important is that we think about the people in this country and look after them.
Clive Palmer, March 2014
Palmer has forgotten that democracy, not unlike justice, needs not only to work, but to be seen to work. This is on display in parliament whose primary function is for members and senators to participate in the operations of democracy. Backroom discussions and meetings, held over lunches of Peking duck, might be where the deals get done, but it’s what happens on the floor that counts.
Every piece of legislation that has visited the House of Representatives has impacted Palmer’s constituents in some way. His voice and vote were needed, even where his roaring objection or meek acquiescence was inconsequential to the outcome. In the house, he’s referred to as the Member for Fairfax, not Mr Palmer, because he was elected to represent the constituents of Fairfax, to speak for them and vote for them. This responsibility includes the ‘boring bits’.
More importantly, as an independent, Palmer’s voting record helps his constituents understand his values. With an established reputation for wild policy shifts, Palmer’s principles and Palmer United Party policies can only be judged by his actions – not from effusive rhetoric.
Palmer’s poor attendance and voting record demonstrates contempt for Australian democracy. Parliament has been a hobby for him, a fancy that will pass with time, just like so many of his abstruse plans, including his $500m Titanic II, his $100m gift to a medical research fund and $6m boon for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. The parliament cannot become Palmer’s latest half-completed promise, discarded when something new comes along.
So why isn’t Palmer being taken to task by the government over his record? Could it be Palmer’s support is crucial to the Abbott government’s legislative agenda?
If Clive Palmer is neglecting his obligations to parliament, then it’s time for the government to do something about it. The people of Fairfax deserve better than a part time plutocrat who turns up only when it suits.
Clive Palmer is the Member for Fairfax – he’s not the member for Clive Palmer.