Undoubtedly the biggest shock from the last federal election was the emergence of Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party (PUP).
Politicians and journalists alike dismissed Palmer as a buffoon. Fanciful stories of CIA plots and a dubious understanding of macroeconomics appears to have distracted them from seeing Palmer as a shrewd political tactician. PUP’s support in the Senate will now be critical to the effective running of the Abbott government come July next year.
Mainstream media has not adequately explained the rise of Palmer. Perhaps his success really was just the result of his wealth, profile and charisma – or perhaps there was something else in play.
The answer may come when Treasurer Hockey announces his decision on the proposed foreign acquisition of Gaincorp. American firm Archer Daniels Midland has offered $3 billion to purchase the monopoly grain handler.
Despite ‘fierce’ opposition from the Nationals, the Liberals appear to be committed to the approval of the sale, to send a message that “Australia is open for business”. Hockey’s recent statements suggest his willingness to support a conditional approval of the takeover.
However the Treasurer has indicated that he won’t be bullied on Graincorp. This was a strong signal of growing tensions inside the Coalition between National and Liberal Party interests.
More recently, Hockey said the the National Interest Test was a powerful test for the Graincorp decision “but I will do what’s right for my country“. Note that Hockey did not say “and I will do what’s right for my country”. This subtle choice of language tells me that he’s keen for a deal.
The only contribution that Nationals’ leader Warren Truss made to the discussion was to say that “It’s very important for Australia to maintain control of its own food security”. His consitutents are concerned, but Truss’ language seems more like a motherhood statement than an argument in the national interest. On the issue of Graincorp, Truss and the Nationals appear to be asleep at the wheel.
This might explain why the Nationals are fading into irrelevance – and why Palmer United is an emerging force in Queensland politics.
If the Nationals fail to stand up on Graincorp, it will mark the terminal decline of the Nationals as a meaningful political party inside the Coalition. It will demonstrate they have neither the courage nor the influence to making a meaningful difference for rural and regional Australia.
Clive Palmer, on the other hand, fills the gap as the kind of straight-talking, patriotic, pro-business politician – the kind of politician that is appealing to rural and regional Australians.
Hockey will make his decision on Graincorp by December 17.
If the Nationals don’t have a win on Graincorp, then a shrewd and vocal Clive Palmer probably will.