British politicians are frequently accused of being too buttoned down and obsessed with their image. Things are very different in Australia, says Nick Cater in The Sunday Times. Thanks to the country’s political system and a dose of “populism and guile”, the mining magnate Clive Palmer and his Palmer United Party hold the balance of political power.
Rather than attempt to moderate his image, Palmer has embraced his quirkiness, “holding press conferences at Palmersaurus, his dinosaur theme park, and twerking like Miley Cyrus for the camera”.
Another sign that he’s keen to cultivate an image of being different is his choice of transport. Over here, David Cameron has attempted to boost his environmental credentials by being snapped driving a husky sled and virtuously cycling a bicycle.
In contrast, Palmer “arrives at parliament in various vintage and classic cars from his extensive private collection” which reportedly take up “at least six spaces in the crowded parliamentary car park”. Palmer’s collection includes “a 1972 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, and a Mercedes Gullwing roadster” that together are “estimated to be worth at least A$1m [£550,000]”.
As well as politics and expensive cars, Palmer has other hobbies. Last year, he unveiled a proposal to build a full-scale replica of the Titanic. His idea is to run it as a cruise vessel, fitting it with “modern safety and navigational equipment”,to avoid the fate of the original ship.
While his plans were derided, Palmer claims that the ship “is under construction in a Chinese shipyard”. However, things aren’t progressing as smoothly as this implies. While the original plan called for it to be launched in two years’ time, “last month the date was quietly put back to 2018”, notes Cater.
Still, as with colourful British politicians such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, one suspects that a lot of this is another form of image management. Indeed, there is a growing sense that his “audacious publicity stunts” and “buffoonery” are calculated “to push his business dealings off the nightly news”, says Cater.
Palmer is the subject of reports that he “made substantial donations to politicians towin favourable treatment for his coal mining interests”. Even worse, there are claims that his election campaign “was funded by corporate fraud”, with a Chinese firm alleging he siphoned large sums of money from them.
Besides, there is a fine line between being eccentric and crudity. Jacqui Lambie, a senator in Palmer’s party, crossed the line last week on a radio talk show, says The Guardian, when she said she was on the lookout for a “financially and physically well-endowed” boyfriend.
A 22-year-old who claimed to have “inherited a small fortune” called into the station offering himself as a potential suitor, after which Lambie questioned him, on air, about his physical attributes. Perhaps there’s something to be said for buttoned-down, grey politicians after all.
Tabloid money: no ceasefire in the war on motorists
• Four years ago, then-transport secretary Philip Hammond promised to end the war on motorists. “He must have forgotten to sign the peace treaty,” observes Ross Clark in the Daily Express. According to an RAC survey, two-thirds of motorists said that parking spaces in their towns had been reduced or that they are now paying for places that used to be free.
What’s worse, “parking companies are now allowed to pursue motorists for parking charges through the courts”. Of course, “if these cases did get to court, the parking cowboys wouldn’t win”, since courts “only allow debtors to be pursued for reasonable charges”. But that “doesn’t matter to the cowboys, as they just rely on a certain percentage of their victims taking fright and paying up”.
• Harriet Harman wants a future Labour government to introduce “a multi-million-pound tax hit on all sports betting, with some of the funds being used to tackle problem gambling”, says Guido Fawkes in The Sun on Sunday.
However, Harman’s son isunlikely to be pleased given that he is “employed by bookmaker Paddy Power to dream up publicity stunts”. This will certainly be “something to talk about over the family’s Sunday lunch”.
• Supermarkets are “central to our way of life”, says the Sunday Mirror, but “that doesn’t mean the growth of megastores hasn’t brought problems”. Indeed, they have played a large part in turning town centres into “ghost towns”.
So, councils are asking for “powers to slap a new tax on supermarkets”, promising that the money raised could be used “to build sustainable communities so people can shop nearer their homes”. This won’t be popular with the supermarket giants “who are already struggling against competition from low-cost incomers like Lidl and Aldi”.
However, “if used wisely” it could “bring life back to town centres”. The fact remains that “not everyone can use out-of-town stores and not everyone can get to them”. A “Tesco tax” could “make all the difference”.