Twirling towards freedom

Clive Palmer feeds chooks, Canberra goes bizarro

After almost 24 hours of head-scratching, journalists all around the country have fairly uniformly labelled Clive Palmer’s press conference the most “bizarre” media event in parliamentary history. Last night Palmer, a man who has made $500 million from pillaging the earth’s natural resources, stood side-by-side with former US vice-president and climate change warrior Al Gore as he calmly confirmed that the Palmer United Party would vote to repeal the carbon tax.

Following the announcement there was immediate and widespread confusion, from journalists, from the public, and almost certainly from Gore who is visiting Australia to train people to communicate about climate change. Gore would have done well to start with Palmer, who explained that the reason all countries need to be united in the desire to act on climate change is that “air moves around the world.”

Palmer didn’t take questions after the press conference, but was later interviewed on Lateline by Tony Jones about his “road to Damascus conversion” on climate change. “Well,” Palmer explained, “I guess the well-being of the Australian people and the people of the world's more important. And certainly from knowledge I had, I think I didn't have a full picture.” Palmer was apparently shown the full picture when he met with Gore yesterday who, in the space of 30 minutes, Palmer says “was able to enlighten me on a number of aspects about climate change which I wasn’t fully familiar with, and the importance of it for all Australians.”

As The Australian gleefully reminded us, there are plenty of aspects of climate change with which Palmer was previously unfamiliar. This is a man who has gone on record with the idea that global warming has existed for a long time and is part of a natural cycle because “all of Ireland was covered by ice at one time, there were no human inhabitants in Ireland.” He’s also suggested that carbon reduction efforts wrongfully focus on “the 3 per cent that’s contributed by man” instead of the “97 per cent that’s contributed by nature.”

As well as announcing his plans to vote to repeal the carbon tax, Palmer did, in an apparently contradictory move, make known his plans to reject any Government bills which abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and the Climate Change Authority (CCA). While Tony Abbott hasn’t yet proposed any legislation to scrap the RET, he did want to abolish the CEFC – the government’s $10 billion green bank to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. While we’re yet to see if it holds water, Palmer’s announcement has every appearance of blocking Abbott off at the pass.

While Palmer is making a very good show of agitating for positive climate change action, it won’t be happening any time soon. Palmer himself has said that “if we’re going to have an ETS, it needs to be one we only have when all our trading partners have it.” In other words, Palmer's ready to move, but only when the rest of the world catches up – which is precisely what Abbott’s been saying, against evidence showing that the rest of the world is actually moving toward carbon trading.

Catching up to Palmer is not an easy task, for the world in general, or his various allies and antagonists in the Australian Government. Depending on your opinion of him, he appears to be thinking two steps ahead of everyone, or not thinking at all.

But it’s not surprising that Palmer would want Gore standing by his side as he made his announcements. If today’s headlines are any indication, the tactic may have worked. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald’s front pages are dedicated to the “Shock and Gore” press conference, and Palmer’s speech may well be remembered mainly for his proximity to the world’s leading climate policy advocate. As long as Palmer can point to that wonderful Wednesday night when Al Gore commended him for his “outstanding statement” and “this extraordinary moment in which Australia, the US and the rest of the world is finally beginning to confront the climate crisis in a meaningful way,” we might forget, or simply not notice, that Palmer has done precisely the opposite.

In the Lateline interview, employing as much cynicism as he could muster, Jones accused Palmer of engineering a theatrical stunt in the style of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and “feeding the chooks to keep them occupied.” Palmer’s reply? “Well, you don’t look like a chook to me, Tony… You’re hardly a chook, my friend.”

To some it may seem that Palmer is running around like the proverbial headless chook, but to this writer, it very much looks that he is playing Abbott, Gore, the electorate, the press gallery and the environment, obscuring them all in a bizarre cloud of chicken feed. 

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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