Lambie doesn’t want to stay, doesn’t want to quit

There is no question that Jacqui Lambie will soon be on the crossbench as an independent, but there’s a lot at stake when it comes to how she gets there.

It’s no longer a matter of when but how Jacqui Lambie will leave the party that delivered her one of the most decisive (and divisive) roles in today’s polity.

Back in 2013, with minimal experience in party politics and a fast-diminishing campaign war-chest, Lambie had her heart set on getting into the Senate despite having unsuccessfully tested the waters with Labor and been rejected by the Liberals.

The offer from cashed-up Clive Palmer to join the Palmer United Party’s Tasmanian Senate ticket must have seemed almost too good to be true.

And so it has been. Lambie may have ridden on PUP’s short-lived swell into the Senate – a feat she would not have achieved in her previous incarnation as an independent candidate – but since becoming a minor celebrity due to her pivotal membership of the Senate crossbench, the new Senator has quickly outgrown the limits of party solidarity.

Lambie has been agitating about her right to speak out on matters of interest, even if not necessarily of interest to PUP, ever since she arrived in Canberra. Various thought bubbles have ensued, starting with the one on mandatory national service for young Australians and most recently the even more controversial call to ban the “burqa”.

In response, Palmer has evolved from commenting that Lambie is entitled to express her own views, to having to reject some of her suggestions such as the call for a “silent protest” at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Lambie has consequently been unhappy that party solidarity is not a two-way street, even though according to Palmer the Senator appears to have made no effort to bring those issues to the party room for discussion or to determine a PUP position.

Whether she’s perceived as behaving like a petulant teenager, or a passionate defender of those she represents, Lambie is ratcheting up the pressure on Palmer to throw her out of PUP. (Or her senior adviser is doing so, depending on the extent to which one believes Rob Messenger is Lambie’s David Oldfield or Svengali.)

Earlier this week Lambie delivered on her commitment to oppose all Government legislation until the ADF pay decision is overturned, and split from her party to vote against the revised social services bill. She also voted against anti-doping legislation that in other circumstances she says she would likely have supported.

Today’s news that Lambie will join Labor and most of the crossbench Senators to disallow the FOFA regulations continues that war of attrition. In voting to disallow the regulations, Lambie will directly oppose a deal her party leader made with the Government.

If Lambie had been a Labor member, voting against her party in this way could be grounds for expulsion. However, the Coalition is somewhat more flexible on such matters, with Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce being two high-profile examples of Coalition MPs having crossed the floor against their parties and not only survived but been appointed to Cabinet.

There is no question that Lambie will soon be an independent member of the crossbench. Over past days, the Senator has removed the PUP logo from her website, refused to attend PUP meetings, chosen to sit away from her party colleagues when attending the joint meeting of the Parliament, and removed all trace of yellow from her wardrobe.

In turn, Lambie has essentially been excommunicated from PUP: cut from the list of PUP MPs on the party’s website, removed as the party’s deputy Senate leader and deputy whip, and (in a classic case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted) suspended from attending party meetings.

In short, Lambie is daring Palmer to sack her, while he in turn is trying to make her leave. This manoeuvring is all about who can position themselves as the victim once the split has taken place. Lambie wants to be sacked, firstly so she doesn’t have to break a previous commitment made to Palmer to stay, but more importantly so she can continue to claim underdog status.

Palmer however didn’t come down in the last shower. The canny operator is biding his time, putting pressure on Lambie to leave by isolating her and her staff from the party, while offering empty platitudes so that he can capitalise on what would be her broken commitment to stay and paint himself as the wronged party.

This will be important if Palmer follows through on a suggestion made last weekend that he will pursue Lambie with lengthy and expensive legal action if she leaves.

‘Attack by inquiry’ the latest political whip

“Attack by inquiry” may soon become the new political game in town, as Clive Palmer is proving with his manoeuvring over the Australia Fund.

Just when political pundits thought Parliament couldn’t descend any further into farce, last week the Abbott Government lowered the bar. In doing so, it may have assisted in damaging a political ally and set a risky new precedent.

As part of the deal negotiated with Clive Palmer to repeal the mining tax, the Government agreed to support an inquiry into the establishment of what is essentially a slush fund for failing businesses – even though it doesn’t support the idea.

Dubbed the Australia Fund, the proposed entity would “support rural and manufacturing industries in Australia in times of crisis and support communities affected by natural disasters” through a range of measures including emergency or ongoing financial relief, loans, acting as guarantor, purchasing debt, waiving interest, or even assuming control of the business for a period.

Essentially it’s an industry protection scheme slanted towards struggling operations in the farming sector.

In addition to establishing whether such a fund is needed, the inquiry will also examine whether “existing bankruptcy and insolvency laws” should be modified or temporarily relaxed for businesses in times of crisis.

Unsurprisingly the Government’s most vocal opponent of industry protection, Treasurer Joe Hockey, does not support the concept, stating in Parliament that industries should not become reliant on taxpayers’ support, “because ultimately industry assistance is revenue from another person”.

Hockey did, however, make it clear the Government would  “allow the parliament to have its inquiries and not pre-determine the outcomes”. That’s code for “it’s better to agree to an inquiry and have control over the chairmanship, than have an ALP-chaired one imposed on us by the Senate.”

Committee work goes mostly unnoticed in the to-ing and fro-ing of national parliament; conducted mainly by backbenchers, it is one of their few perks. The chair and deputy chair receive a salary increase, while other committee members benefit from travelling the nation to hold public meetings and receive evidence.

Even more important than that, committee inquiries are a way of raising one’s profile and building political capital through the pursuit of agendas and the gathering of ammunition to be used against one’s foes.

The inquiry into the Australia Fund clearly has this purpose. Being conducted by a specially-created committee, and comprising MPs from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it will give Palmer and his senators the opportunity to visit rural communities all around the country.

Under cover of the inquiry’s public meetings, PUP MPs will be able to lend a friendly shoulder to representatives of those communities as well as business interests that are under pressure, while exposing the “shortcomings” of various governments that have “failed” to support them. Expect much of the committee’s early action to take place in Queensland as a consequence.

In short, the inquiry into the Australia Fund will be little more than a taxpayer-funded road show that allows PUP to build political capital in rural Queensland for both the state and federal elections.

No wonder Queensland LNP Senator, Barry O’Sullivan has jumped on board, supporting the establishment of the committee inquiry despite seeing no merit in the Australia Fund, noting that he’s nevertheless “keen to start a conversation about how we can encourage investment in agriculture and in rural communities”.

Palmer has made it abundantly clear that he intends to do whatever is necessary to destroy the Newman Government, be it through legal action or the ballot box.

Having snatched voters from the Nationals federally, and more importantly from the LNP in Queensland, as a result of this inquiry, Palmer will ultimately not give a fig whether the Australia Fund is realised. His mission will have been accomplished.

While the Australia Fund inquiry will facilitate PUP’s rearguard assault on the Queensland LNP, Palmer is also negotiating the establishment of a more direct attack on Campbell Newman’s regime with Labor and the Greens.

With the support of the opposition parties, Palmer aims to use his numbers in the upper house to establish a Senate inquiry into the Queensland Government itself. The inquiry’s proposed terms of reference focus on identifying rorting of Commonwealth funds, human rights abuses in the administration of the state’s judicial system and prisons, and breaches of approval processes for the export of resources of services administered by the Commonwealth. They also propose the inquiry committee of five be chaired by Labor, while the deputy chair is to be elected by the committee.

Most tellingly, the inquiry is due to report by March 31, 2015 – in time for the Queensland state election.

Palmer has made it abundantly clear that he intends to do whatever is necessary to destroy the Newman Government, be it through legal action or the ballot box. This Senate inquiry will help him gather further ammunition to do so, while garnering more publicity for PUP in Queensland along the way.

Labor has reportedly indicated it will not obstruct “a senator’s ability to inquire into issues where there are resources available”, while the Greens are said to be reserving judgement until they see the final terms of reference.

If the inquiry is established with Labor’s sanction, it will set a risky precedent for similar inquiries to be held into current or former state governments, with the results being released in time for respective state elections. Such tit-for-tat inquiries could quickly become part of the new campaigning landscape.

Of course, this tactic would not be restricted to scrutiny of state governments. There appears to be an increasing appetite for governing parties at the federal level to launch inquiries and Royal Commissions into each other once elected.

“Attack by inquiry” may soon become the new political game in town. However, the participants would do well to remember that increased scrutiny of this kind tends to come doubly-edged, as the Liberals have learnt in NSW.

Jacqui Lambie: the PUP is outgrowing the kennel

Jacqui Lambie provides Clive Palmer with a direct line to disgruntled voters, but the problem is that he needs her more than she needs him.

For the vengeful and electorally rampaging Clive Palmer, disaffected disability pensioner Jacqui Lambie would have been little more than the means to an end when he coaxed her to run for the Palmer United Party before the 2013 federal election.

The born-and-bred Tasmanian nursed her own reasons for putting one up the establishment, and her outspoken vehemence dovetailed conveniently with Palmer’s own mangled sound grabs castigating the Coalition at federal and state levels.

But having been peremptorily preselected and then elected on a sweet preference deal, the PUP Senator for Tasmania is now fast outgrowing the kennel.

If the blossoming of Lambie’s political brand continues apace, and canny political operators can find the right enticements to unravel her ties to Palmer, Lambie could become an independent Senate champion for her embattled home state.

Such a turn of events would allow the unashamed champion of the underdog to deliver bounties to Tasmania not seen since the heyday of the late Brian Harradine.

If not for Palmer, Lambie would have been just another Australian downtrodden by bureaucracy.

She joined the army early in life, serving in transport and military policing roles and later losing a stripe for punching a colleague. Lambie finally left the army after 11 years due to a back injury sustained in 1997 from carrying a 40kg pack for a two-day bush skills course.

What does she stand for?

  • Veterans Affairs: Concerned about misogyny in the Australian Defence Force and the high rate of suicide amongst former ADF personnel. Has demanded the Government extend the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce indefinitely, and called for a Royal Commission into the Veterans’ Affairs Department.
  • National Security: Believes Australia’s national security is weak and that defence force spending should be bolstered. Advocates compulsory National Service for all young Australians.
  • Tasmania: Wants an extra $5 billion over four years diverted from foreign aid to establish a special economic zone in Tasmania to help business employ more workers and lower the unemployment rate.
  • Transport: Wants $180 million cut from mainland road and infrastructure to be invested immediately in the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme.

She battled the veterans’ affairs bureaucracy over the next 5 years, to overcome accusations of malingering and finally be allowed to draw a disability pension. These experiences awakened Lambie’s political awareness in 2008 when she was given work by former Labor senator Nick Sherry as part of her rehab. But in 2009 she attempted suicide, and then spent time in a psychiatric ward, following which she found God and lost 40 kilos. She then led an unsuccessful run for Liberal pre-selection in Braddon for the 2013 federal election.

After deciding to run as an independent anyway, Lambie accepted Palmer’s invitation to jump on the PUP bandwagon after realising she couldn’t afford to bankroll a decent campaign on her own.

Lambie’s and Palmer’s political relationship may be one of convenience, but it is nevertheless a fruitful one.

While the multi-millionaire Palmer may claim to be a man of the people, Lambie is genuinely representative of the underclass that most politicians would never encounter unless they visited the local dole office. Lambie shares the concerns and language of this under-represented segment of the Australian community, and unashamedly gives voice to the disdain they hold for the establishment they believe has abandoned them.

Through Lambie, Palmer has a direct line to these disgruntled voters and the opportunity to harvest their protest votes.

The problem for Palmer is that he needs Lambie more than she needs him. Whether she’s inside PUP’s yellow tent or out, Lambie wields one of the six votes needed by the Government from the eight crossbenchers to pass legislation when Labor and the Greens oppose it. Without Lambie, and on the occasions when Muir decides to vote with the Government, Palmer’s bloc is reduced to two and he no longer has the power of veto.

What does the future hold?

Lambie shares Palmer’s passion for political vengeance, but her future will be determined less by revenge than by ambition.

She has not been afraid to brandish the leadership baton kept in her knapsack, reportedly stating not long after the federal election that she would become Leader of PUP if Palmer was not successful in getting elected in Fairfax.

So it’s hardly surprising that other reports have emerged suggesting Lambie is unhappy with her colleague from Queensland, Glenn Lazarus, being unilaterally made Leader of the PUP in the Senate.

Such quibbles would be music to the ears of Government strategists looking for a way to cleave Lambie away from the PUP voting bloc. It would however be a mistake for the plotters to focus only on Lambie’s ambitions for herself.

More important by far appears to be the Senator’s ambitions for the state she represents and the disadvantaged people she’s determined to champion.

The spoils of victory will go to the party that can deliver on that ambition for her.

A multimedia version of this piece appears on the ABC’s tablet app The Brief, which can be downloaded here.

How far will Abbott bend to salvage the budget?

With the pressing need to salvage the budget, the risk is high that the new senators’ niche demands will be met to satisfy broader legislative needs. But this might not be what the public wants.

Starting today the Australian polity will reshape itself to fit the priorities and philosophies of the Senate crossbenchers, who will potentially have the final say on any proposed laws rejected by both Labor and the Greens.

Following this morning’s official swearing-in of the 12 new Senators whose terms commenced on July 1, the Abbott Government is expected to test its crossbench support by attempting to bring on debate of the legislation that will scrap the Gillard government’s carbon pricing scheme.

The bill was not due to be considered until a Senate committee review of its details, initiated by Labor and the Greens when they still had the numbers in the Senate, reported on July 14.

However, the Government should be able to bring the matter to an earlier resolution now that Motoring Enthusiasts’ Ricky Muir has confirmed his support for the repeal of the scheme, thereby securing more than the six crossbench votes needed to fulfil one of Abbott’s signature election commitments (Muir’s, the Palmer United Party’s three votes, and those of Senators Madigan, Leyonhjelm and Day).

It appears the only concession extracted by Clive Palmer from the Government for his party’s support is a “legislated guarantee” that all the savings made from scrapping the carbon price will be passed on to consumers. At one point Palmer also canvassed the extension of this remit to large industrial users of electricity in addition to households and businesses, but it is unknown how these long-term electricity supply contracts would be varied.

A similar happy result for the Government is expected when the Senate votes on legislation to repeal the mining tax. But then it’s downhill from there.

With PUP, Leyonhjelm and Day opposed to the Government’s alternative greenhouse mitigation policy, Direct Action, the initiative is doomed unless Labor or the Greens see any political or environmental benefit in negotiating support for acceptable amendments to the scheme. This seems unlikely, with both parties having already flagged their intention to maintain the high moral ground on climate action rather than be seen to enable any version of the Government’s less than optimal alternative.

A similar fate awaits most of the budget’s savings measures including the indexation of fuel excise, the GP co-payment and changes to unemployment benefit arrangements, welfare payments and pensions.

PUP opposes these measures because they place a disproportionate burden on the disadvantaged. While Leyonhjelm and most likely Day will support the GP co-payment and deregulation of university fees, they will oppose the fuel excise change and any other measures they believe are simply increases to taxation.

Xenophon and Madigan seem disinclined to support the budget either.

In spite of this wall of negativity, the Government is putting on a surprisingly brave face and has indicated a willingness to negotiate. Those of a Machiavellian bent may wonder whether this unnatural cheeriness reveals the budget was actually meant to be an ambit claim, giving the Government some room to back down without having to abandon measures altogether. If this is the case, it seems Coalition strategists seriously underestimated the capacity of Palmer to play his own brand of ruthless politics.

PUP’s populism may know no bounds, either in logic or consistency, but the other crossbenchers are no less committed to pursuing their political objectives.

Leyonheljm and Day have an agreement to vote the same on economic matters, suggesting Leyonhjelm’s free market and low-taxing, low-regulating, small-government philosophies will have precedence. But on societal matters, Day is much more akin to the staunch social conservative Madigan, who’s opposed to abortion as well as marriage equality.

Madigan sees former senator Brian Harradine, whose support for the partial sale of Telstra was dependent on policies that restricted women’s reproductive rights, as a role model.

This is of less a concern while the PUP voting bloc, including Muir, stands firm.

But if one PUP Senator were to break away from the eponymous party and become an independent – and the book has already started on loose cannon Jacqui Lambie taking that honour – then the horse trading game would change considerably.

In this scenario, substantial time and effort would have to be devoted by Government negotiators enlisted to make nice with the crossbench senators but it would at least allow Abbott to break free from under the PUP’s shadow and any implication that Palmer is the one running the country.

This attendant risk is that Abbott would then become beholden to the assorted whims and idiosyncrasies of the non-PUP Senators, including the abortion-hating Madigan and the gun-loving Leyonheljm.

By dint of their independent or minor party status these Senators stand proudly outside the mainstream, giving disgruntled voters a vicarious thrill each time the crossbenchers enthusiastically jostle the major parties’ status quo.

Yet at a time when government transparency is little more than a distant memory, and the need to salvage the budget is pressing, the risk is high that these outriders’ niche demands will be met to satisfy broader legislative needs.

It will be at this point that voters realise that crossbenchers are fringe-dwellers for a reason. Their views don’t always represent those of the Australian majority, and often run completely counter to what most voters believe is best for the nation.

The Greens play tough but will avoid double trouble

The Greens are playing tough politics on a number of budget measures before the Senate change-up and could pave the way for a double dissolution – but don’t hold your breath on that.

In two weeks Australian federal politics will shift slightly on its axis. The balance of power in the Senate will move from being the sole domain of the Australian Greens to also being shared by a motley collection of mostly conservative senators.

In theory the Greens have enough votes to join with the Coalition Government to pass proposed legislation, but in practice they’re unlikely to do so.

Branded on their psyches would be the memory of the Australian Democrats being made to pay dearly for what was seen by voters as an act of collusion with the Howard government when the minor party secured concessions to pass the GST.

The more recent and direct opprobrium received by the Greens for helping the Government to abolish the debt ceiling would also be fresh on their minds.

In fact there’s next to no benefit for the Greens in cooperating with the Abbott Government, not even on policies that are ostensibly in line with their philosophical positions such as paid parental leave and fuel excise. This is why Greens Leader Christine Milne has a clearly marked exit plan for both proposals, aimed at allowing her senators to retain credibility while essentially walking away from party policy.

Having already secured a drop from $150,000 to $100,000 in the upper limit for Prime Minister Abbott’s proposed paid parental leave, Milne has now completely backed away by reserving her party’s decision until the detail of the scheme is known. Milne may even be spared from having to disown PPL if the Nationals succeed in distorting the workplace benefit into another form of welfare for farm-based stay at home mothers.

The Greens leader is on less secure political ground with the Government’s proposal to re-introduce indexation to fuel excise. Milne’s criticism of the tax being hypothecated into road-building instead of public transport ignores the fact that at least one major form of public transport requires modern and safe road networks. It also dismisses those people in rural, regional and remote Australia who have limited access to public transport and continue to endure poor quality roads.

Again, Milne has reserved her party’s decision on fuel excise indexation until the detail is known. But judging from her comments on the weekend, the Greens leader’s exit plan is to demand the introduction of mandatory fuel efficiency standards instead.

The Abbott Government won’t impose a new and costly regulatory impost on what is left of the diminishing Australian car manufacturing industry, so Milne will be provided with her other escape route.

Come July and the new Senate, the Greens may be shunted from centre stage but they’re not about to slip silently into the night. The configuration of the new Senate may actually favour the minor party, transferring much of the responsibility for sealing devilish pacts with the Government to the rest of the crossbench senators and leaving the Greens to return to being a party of protest.

Hence the latest “Bust the Budget” rally held in Melbourne with prominent involvement by Greens MPs and candidates for the upcoming state election.

This also explains the latest Greens’ tactic, flagged by Milne this past weekend, to bring on consideration of the proposed legislation to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation while the Greens still have the balance of power, so that it can be defeated again.

Such a defeat would provide the Abbott Government with the trigger needed to call a double dissolution election. It appears that the Greens, having provided the means by which Abbott could call an election, would then call him a lame duck (or perhaps even accuse him of not having the ticker) until he does so.

This appears to be the basis for Greens MP Adam Bandt sounding eerily like former opposition leader Abbott, by calling for another election and suggesting that Australia could have a new prime minister by Christmas.

However, Abbott won’t be pressured into holding a double dissolution election and he can’t be forced to do so. Even if Labor reversed its historical opposition to the blocking of supply and stopped the appropriation bills in the Senate, Abbott would still only be required to hold a House of Representatives election. Incidentally, the Greens don’t support blocking supply either.

What is more likely is that Abbott will attempt to pass the most unpopular of his proposed changes through the Senate, and once they’ve been twice rejected he will hold these in abeyance. If the polls turn back in his favour, Abbott then has the ability to call a double dissolution election and, on the re-attainment of government, pass all the outstanding double dissolution triggers through the joint sitting of parliament that can be held following a DD election if the senate remains uncooperative.*

So in short, a double dissolution election would be a high stakes game for everyone involved.

The Coalition would risk losing government. The major parties would risk losing seats to the minors, micros and independents. And anyone opposed to the double dissolution triggers would risk them becoming law.

Cyclone Clive could tear through minor parties

Clive Palmer is more intent on causing havoc for Coalition governments than he is on “making an impact in the field of ideas”, and the reputation of minor parties may be collateral damage.

Towards the end of the Gillard years, voters had had enough of independents and minor party MPs holding the balance of power. This disenchantmentlikely stemmed from the two country independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, giving Julia Gillard the numbers to form minority government and their support for the price on carbon.

Even though Australians were dissatisfied with Tony Abbott and Gillard, political pundits anticipated that at the 2013 federal election voters would take out their resentment on the bit players and return to the major parties in droves.

This proved mostly to be true. The Coalition secured government with a healthy majority, including the seats relinquished by the retiring Windsor and Oakeshott, while Labor lost fewer seats than the opinion polls suggested. The only new independent to be elected was Cathy McGowan, who tapped into grassroots determination to get a better local MP and ended up snatching a seat from the incoming Coalition Government.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and the Greens’ Adam Bandt did well too, with both increasing their vote, even though in Bandt’s case the Green vote decreased nationally.

McGowan’s success in particular heralded a continuation of the legacy left by Windsor and Oakeshott, replacing their considered voices with hers in the Parliament. Independents and minor party MPs were therefore given a reprieve, and with McGowan as their new torchbearer it was tempting to think their future would be a long and fruitful one.

But their colleagues in the Senate may yet squander what remains of voter goodwill towards politicians that are not from the major parties. For when the new Senators take their places on the red leather benches in July, Australian voters will reap the whirlwind that is Clive Palmer.

Granted, Palmer sits in the House of Representatives, but his populist and mercurial approach to facts, policies and legislation will guide his party’s voting bloc in the Senate.

Palmer may seem a novelty politician, bringing delicious schadenfreude to anyone who lodged a vote against Abbott at the last election, but in reality he is a wilful source of political chaos.

Palmer has become emboldened by the knowledge that Abbott needs six of the eight Senate crossbench votes to pass any legislation that is opposed by Labor. With three PUP Senators and the Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir, Palmer now has control over four of those votes.

As a result, Palmer’s behaving like a bully on the beach, flexing his Senate numbers while kicking demands into the face of the diminutive Abbott. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if Palmer was agitating for selfless or even consistent causes.

But Palmer is all over the shop, careening from narcissistic disdain (Abbott needs to be able to count) and near incomprehensible politico-babble (we can make an impact in the field of ideas) to painful ignorance of our nation’s democratic processes (such as the implications of blocking supply).

Palmer tells people what they want to hear, with seemingly little thought given to the possibility that conflicting promises will be exposed or indeed whether they can be achieved at all. One week he’s telling Western Australia voters that he’ll deliver them a greater share of GST revenue (which is not actually determined by Parliament), and the next he’s claiming he can protect Indigenous Australians from racial vilification by the NT Government.

By the time the Palmer party is over, voters may well have given up on minor parties and independents altogether.

Having sold PUP to voters as the only party that can scrap the carbon and mining taxes, Palmer is now threatening to block their repeal unless the carbon tax cancellation is made retrospective (thereby saving Palmer’s mining operations many millions of dollars) and a $200 top-up payment for the orphans of defence personnel that was meant to be funded from the mining tax is retained.

These two demands demonstrate the murky mix of self-interest and public good that make up Palmer’s political agenda. He may well believe taxpayer funds would be better spent raising pensions than paying for emissions reduction, but that’s more a reflection of the coal magnate’s belief that man-made carbon emissions are not the problem than on the efficacy of the Coalition’s Direct Action policy.

And if Palmer is prepared to block a supply bill to stop the introduction of Direct Action, to what lengths would the politician who still runs his multi-million dollar coal mining operation also go to protect tax breaks for business, reduce environmental regulations, have the GST increased, or have industrial relations reforms brought on earlier than Abbott would prefer?

Windsor wrote on the weekend in a cautionary note to the “Senate’s wildcards” that the political class was expecting PUP MPs to be “self-serving, particularly towards Clive’s business interests, and to be novices in a world of political strategy and propaganda.”

Windsor added, hopefully, that PUP would come under the most scrutiny because “it has the capacity, if credible, to encourage voters away from the two-party dominance in our lower house.”

Regrettably, Windsor’s hope is ill-founded.

Palmer is more intent on causing havoc for Liberal and Coalition governments around the nation than he is on “making an impact in the field of ideas”.

The resulting chaos will produce more than amusement for those wishing to see Abbott’s legislative ambitions poetically frustrated.

It will result in perverse outcomes that have little to do with good government and everything to do with Palmer’s patchy political priorities.

And by the time the Palmer party is over, voters may well have given up on minor parties and independents altogether.