And then there was one. In the Senate, at least.
Palmer United Party’s Glenn Lazarus announced overnight that he’d left PUP to become an independent, leaving the party with only one vote in the upper house.
I have a different view of team work. Given this, I felt it best that I resign from the party and pursue my Senate role as an independent Senator.
A media report suggests Lazarus took this action after his wife was sacked as his chief of staff.
The departure of Lazarus leaves Palmer with only former employee Dio Wang in the Senate and next to no negotiating power compared to what he wielded in that chamber for a few tumultuous months in 2014.
Since his election to the Australian Parliament in 2013, Palmer’s power has not come from his single vote in the House of Representatives but from the three-vote bloc that he controlled in the Senate. Since the new Senate commenced on July 1, 2014 with the eight-Senator crossbench, the Government had to secure six votes from the crossbench to pass any legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens. However, only three votes were needed to block any such legislation.
This essentially gave Palmer the right of veto, and played to his grandiose perceptions of importance and influence.
Only those delusions could explain Palmer’s decision to share the stage with former US vice-president Al Gore to announce a “dormant” emissions trading scheme while simultaneously committing to scrap the carbon tax.
Only an overwhelming sense of self-worth could have produced Palmer’s trenchant statements of opposition to a panoply of government policies, followed by audaciously nonchalant changes of course when the political headwinds shifted.
This inconsistent and autocratic style would have been less an issue if Palmer had been the sole PUP member of Parliament. However it is difficult to manage a party using only tyranny and cronyism.
It may well have only been a matter of time before PUP’s tyro senators began to better appreciate their individual power and got an increasing urge to use it, but Palmer’s overbearing “my way or the highway” style would have undoubtedly contributed to their restlessness.
Former PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie was the first of the party’s federal MPs to expose the dissent behind PUP’s shiny yellow façade. After Palmer was less than effusive about her proposed “burqa” ban, called her a drama queen over her campaign to improve defence force pay, and then suspended her from attending PUP party room meetings, Lambie moved to sever ties with the man who bankrolled her campaign.
In truth, Lambie was never a good fit for PUP. Her penchant for straight-talking and reluctance to toe the party line made her a likely candidate for leaving Palmer’s eponymous party.
But the man who left PUP today would have been considered much less likely to do so. If there’s one thing the former rugby league hero lacks, it’s certainly not the capacity for loyalty. His fidelity to family and the voters of Queensland certainly sit comfortably with the report that the sacking of his wife forced Lazarus’ hand.
For his part, Palmer might not particularly care. Having witnessed the defeat of his nemesis, former Queensland premier Campbell Newman at the recent state election, and the ongoing electoral deterioration of his other foe PM, Tony Abbott, Palmer may well feel his work here is done. His attendance record in the Parliament certainly doesn’t indicate a burning desire to participate or contribute.
This might be just as well, considering Palmer is no longer the media’s darling, partly because he’s no longer particularly relevant but also because he treats the press with impunity. His recent “accidental” call for Abbott to commit (political) suicide was not indulged as it once might have been, and instead was called out for being the desperate ploy for media attention that it was.
The trajectory of Palmer’s hobby-political party has now followed that of his hobby-football team. After recruiting a number of disaffected conservative MPs from other parties in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and then losing them again, PUP has gone from controlling a peak of nine MPs around the country to two – Senator Dio Wang and Palmer himself.
PUP offered voters an alternative to the major parties and a commonsense approach to contentious policies. But in truth it was nothing more than the hollow sales pitch of a white-shoed wannabe.
For the good of the nation, let’s hope today’s departure of Lazarus from the Palmer United Party brings an ignominious close to the Age of Clive in Australian politics.