World

Notes from the billionaire-ocracy: Man building Titanic II wants to be Australian PM

By Richard Poplak 29 April 2013

This week, it was revealed that Clive Palmer, an Australian mining multimillionaire and one of the country’s richest men, will be forming a far-right wing political party that he plans to lead. As a nation with an incoming billionaire deputy president (maybe), South Africans instinctively know that Palmer will bring some necessary bling to the Australian political scene. After all, who doesn’t want a prime minister responsible for building a Titanic replica? By RICHARD POPLAK.

The way Clive Palmer sees it, it’s simple. Before his fledgling United Australia Party gets off the ground, he’s figured out how the country should deal with its asylum problem. No more chasing refugees in leaky boats across the Pacific, which costs the country roughly $5 billion a year. Instead, let them land at the airport, assess them as they come in, and pop them on the next flight if they don’t qualify. Simple, pared down, and slightly ludicrous – not unlike the idea’s architect. Clive Palmer, once famous as the owner of Minerology and other natural resource companies, who last year banked about $795 million, is by no means a common or garden rich guy gone off the rails. But he is a far-right political animal with enough money to make Australia’s September elections interesting.

As a Courier Mail story recently put it, “Clive Palmer wants to be Prime Minister, which is a disappointment to fans of the big miner who remember him aiming much higher.” And Palmer is, indeed, a big miner. He has the avoirdupois of a rhino, and the 10-ton personality to match. He plans to spend $200 million building a replica of the RMS Titanic, to be dubbed Titanic II, which will be constructed in China’s CSC Jinling Shipyard. He has built an animatronic Jurassic Park in Oz’s Collum, inhabited by a menagerie of growling robots. He got his football team Gold Coast United kicked out of the A-League by going head to head with the Football Federation of Australia.

He entered politics in the early 70s, following in the footsteps of Sir Johannes “Joh” Bjelke-Petersen, who ran Queensland as an ultra-conservative personal fiefdom from 1968 to 1987. Bjelke-Peterson is perhaps best remembered in South Africa, if he’s remembered at all, for instituting a State of Emergency in Queensland to quash protests against the Springbok tour of 1971. (He would later describe all of this as “great fun”.) Palmer learned at the knee of the legendary Joh, who undertook all of the boilerplate union busting and hardline economic policies, while managing to make contemporaries Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan look like screaming pinkos by comparison. Palmer threw his considerable weight behind the botched “Joh for Canberra” campaign in 1987, and soon after was made a lifetime member of the National Party, now the Liberal National Party of Queensland. He subsequently tore up his membership card following a long-running dispute. (He called several ministers “crooks”.) And now, the resurrection of the dormant-for-decades United Australian Party.

“I’m standing to be the next prime minister of Australia,” said Palmer in a statement. “I have no personal interest. I have made enough money in my life, I’m not seeking any enrichment of wealth for myself, I’m seeking it for the Australian people. I could go off and stay in Monaco, have a nice drink and forget about this country. But we’ve got more commitment to Australia and your children than anyone else.”

You’d think that this statement, coming from a mining tycoon, would raise eyebrows with the most naïve of Australia’s political class. And it has. Unsurprisingly, Palmer has been unapologetically pro-mining over the course of his political career, and the policies he’s fought for have done his bottom line no good. He hates carbon tax, would repeal it and pay back monies already collected. He wants nothing to do with the so-called mining Super Tax, would ban lobbyists from becoming politicians, and will do some nice stuff for the indigenous peoples.

His ascendancy is by no means assured. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has enjoyed a brutal year in office, and has called an election for September. Her Labour Party is ripping itself to internecine shreds, while she hits approval lows usually reserved for experimental Jagermeister cocktails. So Tony Abbot, who heads the conservative Liberal National coalition, is expected to walk into Canberra. But Palmer’s nascent party, backed by his considerable wealth and influence represents a serious threat by splintering the right wing vote. But should the UAP get going in a meaningful way, in Australia’s current, fractured political environment, the wonks seem to believe that anything is possible.

And so, Australia would finally complete its historical arc from open-air prison to a Mining-ocracy. Like his peers, Palmer doesn’t put much stock in climate change or any of that namby-pamby liberal crap. The country will properly devote itself to digging, which is its destiny. In one of Palmer’s wackier disquisitions, he claimed that Greenpeace is in league with the CIA, via the Rockefeller Foundation, in order to undermine Australia’s coal mining sector.

“You only have to go back and read the Church Report in the 1970s and to read the reports to the US Congress which sets up the Rockefeller Foundation as a conduit of CIA funding,” he said last year. “You only have to look at their secret budget which was passed by Congress last year, bigger than our whole national economy, which the CIA’s got to ensure that. You only have to read the reports to US Congress when the CIA reported to the president that their role was to ensure the US competitive advantage and economic advantages. That’s how you know it’s funded by the CIA.”

Greenpeace denies the charges.

Rich people have, of late, found it difficult to buy themselves countries. (Take a bow, Mitt Romney.) But Clive Palmer will make a go of it, and Australia is in enough political disarray that he may actually make an impact. Then again, he may sink like the first Titanic. Doesn’t matter, it’s only money. And Australia’s miners have no shortage of that. DM

Photo: Australian billionaire Clive Palmer speaks at a news conference to announce plans for the building of his cruise ship Titanic II under the Blue Star Line in New York, February 26, 2013. According to Palmer, Titanic II, which will be a modern close replica of the original HMS Titanic which sank on her maiden voyage in the North Atlantic ocean on April 15, 1912, killing more than 1500 passengers and crew, will be privately funded and built at the CSC Jingling Shipyard in China, with her maiden voyage being from Southampton England to New York in late 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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