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The Vote: All the Clive Palmer ads are written by… Clive Palmer?

Rick Morton on the rise of Clive Palmer and what he is trying to get out of his election advertising blitz.
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This election, one person is having more of a say than anyone else when it comes to the political advertising Australians are seeing everyday.

That person is Clive Palmer.

And he’s not only outspending the major political parties by a significant margin, he’s also got a huge personal say in the ads he’s putting onto billboards and TV screens.

That’s because he writes them all himself. 

Today, senior reporter for The Saturday Paper, Rick Morton on the rise of Clive Palmer and what he is trying to get out of his election advertising blitz. 

 

Guest: Senior reporter for The Saturday Paper, Rick Morton.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

From Schwartz Media and 7am, I’m Ruby Jones and this is The Vote. Your guide to the 2022 election.

This election, one person is having more of a say than anyone else when it comes to the political advertising Australians are seeing everyday.

That person is Clive Palmer.

And he’s not only outspending the major political parties by a significant margin, he’s also got a huge personal say in the ads he’s putting onto billboards and TV screens.

That’s because he writes them all himself. 

Today, senior reporter for The Saturday Paper, Rick Morton, on the rise of Clive Palmer,  and what he is trying to get out of his election advertising blitz. 

It’s Thursday April 28.

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:
Rick. I think we all have an image of who Clive Palmer is - he’s been a figure in Australian public life for a long time. And there is certainly a persona he presents. But  can you tell me about where he comes from and what’s underneath the caricature?

RICK:
Yeah, I mean I'm a Queenslander and I think if you want to know everything you need to know about Clive Palmer, the three things. He started out as a property developer on the Gold Coast during the White Shoe Brigade era of the 1980s. 

And made an absolute motza during what was a poorly regulated time in Australian property and then started. He bought up some old American leases, actually mining leases and started his company, Mineralogy, in the 1980s. And that was really kind of around iron ore, thermal coal and hydrocarbon assets.

And this kind of goes hand in hand with his political rise.

So he was, you know, in the National Party he rose to become the media spokesperson for the National Party. 

While the most corrupt and notorious premier in Queensland history, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was in power.

Archival Tape -- News:
“These were the days of Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his National Party government riddled with cronyism and weakened by scandal.”

Archival Tape -- News:
“Well Mr Palmer the clear innuendo is there. Are you indeed a crook?” 

Archival Tape -- Clive Palmer:
“Well, nobody's made that allegation as you as you'll appreciate. I'm very surprised that these sorts of allegations.”

RICK:
And then um he kind of leapfrogged off both of those things into his mining interests to create, you know, obscene wealth for himself.

And along the way has kind of taken from his mentor and at the time friend Joh Bjelke-Petersen. And this mantra of feeding the chooks where it's like, you know, if you want to keep the press occupied, if you want to keep him distracted, throw them something that doesn't matter, give them something to feed on. And, you know, he's notorious for it. 

Archival Tape -- Journalist:
“So 1, I’d like to ask you - what are your political motives and 2, are we going to see a refloating of the Titanic.” 

Archival Tape -- Clive Palmer:
“Well with Titanic …”

RICK:
So, you know, he's, you know, political background and his sense of, you know, what money can achieve has been well formed. And he's kind of grown into that now as this person who has a lot of money. 

RUBY:
Yeah if there’s anything that people know about Clive Palmer it’s that he’s a very rich man -  But 2013, he returned to politics with a party named after himself – The Palmer United Party. And that was when he actually managed to get elected to parliament.

RICK:
Yeah, he did. And he was actually won a seat in the House of Representatives, which is notoriously hard to do if you don't have major party backing. And so he, you know, won the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax only by 53 votes. Just 53 votes. But it was enough.

Archival Tape -- Speaker:
“Before I call the member for Fairfax, the honourable member for Fairfax, I would remind the House that this is the honourable members maiden speech.”

RICK:
And he said my election is a reminder to the major parties that they must truly serve all Australians. 

Archival Tape -- Clive Palmer:
“Let us not seek the liberal answer or the Labour answer, but the right answer.”   

RICK:
So as an MP for Fairfax, he attended only 64% of parliamentary sitting days, was quite a long running kind of joke about whether Clive would actually be there or not. And that was in 2014. It was even less the following year.  

So he became unpopular and he didn't recontest that seat in the 2016 election. 

But probably I guess the most important thing for us right now is that, you know, that was his prelude, I guess, into politics. But the 2019 election was where he finely tuned his own craft.

RUBY:
Okay. Well, let's talk about the 2019 election then, Rick. What was Clive Palmer's strategy going into that election and how did things actually play out for him?

RICK:
Yeah, it's actually really interesting. So firstly, Palmer spent a lot of money like a lot, a lot, about $84 million. Something to like 70, some say 80, $84 million.

And at first, his ads were very deliberately targeted at both the major parties in a really negative way. 

Archival Tape -- United Australia Party Ad:
“It’s not the Liberal or Labor way, but the right way…”

RICK:
You know, both the Liberal National Coalition has failed us. You know, Shorten and Labour have failed us. 

Why not try the right way, you know, not Liberal, not Labour the right way, in this case United Australia Party 

Archival Tape -- United Australia Party Ad:
“The ANZACS weren’t Liberal or Labor, they were Australians - Vote 1, United Australia Party - authorised etc” 

RUBY:
Right. So he starts out with ads attacking both the Coalition and Labour. But then there's this pivot and it becomes all about Labour antilabour ads.

RICK:
Correct. 

And very so the timeline is actually quite clear. So after Anzac Day in 2019, there is news breaking of a probable preference deal between the Coalition and Clive Palmer and as soon as that happens, something very noticeable happens in Clive Palmer's election advertising spend. It almost completely swings to personally and deliberately attacking Bill Shorten

Archival Tape -- United Australia Party Ad:
“Labor’s death tax will kill your family’s wealth. No to death tax, no to death tax. Say no to 4 years of hard Labor, vote CUAP.” 

Archival Tape -- United Australia Party Ad:
“Bill Shorten wants to tax us an extra trillion dollars… Tell Shifty he’s dreamin.’”

RICK:
He he becomes Shifty Shorten and the Coalition are running attack ads saying the bill Australia can't afford and by their powers combined you have an election where Labour cannot afford to get any room, any breathing space and these massive forces have, you know, saturated all of the channels.  

##Archival Tape -- Clive Palmer:
“Of course, our shift is short and that's across Australia. I think we've been very successful in suppressing the Labour vote.” 

RICK:
And he actually claimed credit for Scott Morrison's victory in that election,  

Archival Tape -- Clive Palmer:
“Well, actually, it's clear that Scott Morrison has been returned as prime minister, and he's only done so because of the 3.5 per cent of the vote of the United Australia Party.”  

RICK:
But it's important to know about 2019 because the pattern, at least at the start of the campaign, is re-emerging now.. He's spending almost the same amount of money.

What is different at the moment and remember, this is exactly kind of where we're at in 2019, give or take a few days, is that he's saying him and Craig Kelly, who is, you know, former liberal in the seat of Hughes, who's now the leader in the parliament of the United Australia Party. Both of them are saying we're not doing any deals, we are fed up. 

And they're saying, nup  we're done with this government, we're not going to attack them, we're going to attack Labour, we're going to take the Greens, the National Party like proper strafing fire across all the political parties. 

Of course no one knows at this point whether that's just bluster. And there is a lot of bluster wherever Clive goes. But, you know, he's an unpredictable person. And what we do know is that he's going to have a big influence on the messages regardless of what he thinks or what he ends up actually doing in terms of political strategy. 

…He's already saturating the market and spending so much more than the other political parties.

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RUBY:
Right. Okay. And so Clive Palmer's spending all of this money where a couple of weeks away from the 2022 election. But what what is the actual message of his campaign? What's he saying to people about why they should vote for Clive Palmer and the United Australia Party? 

RICK:
Yeah, it's classic political advertising in the sense that there's very little about why you should vote for the United Australia Party, but a lot about why you shouldn't vote for anyone else.

And it's fear, you know, as one Labour MP told me, you know, he gives people a reason to be angry. 

Archival Tape -- United Australia Party Ad:
“The government wants a database with the power to match images of everyone captured on CC TV with their driver’s license and passport photos.”

Archival Tape -- United Australia Party Ad:
“Help United Australia party keep Australia free - Freedom forever.”

RICK:
And that is very much about, you know, we've got the COVID 19 pandemic this time around. We didn't have that in the 2019 campaign. So we're getting a lot about freedom and government control. It's kind of  flirting with conspiracy theory talk and saying, you know, do you want someone to stand up for you or do you want these, you know, government people to control every element of your  existence

And also one of the more curious ones, but it's also really clever in an era where we are going to start seeing rise in interest rates. Is that the quote unquote guaranteeing to keep interest rates at 3%, no higher than 3% for the next five years, which as far as I understand economic policy would require a complete unstitching of the way everything works in Australia currently. But you know, when he talks about home ownership and mortgage stress, those are very real fears that Australians have. 

I think the thing that we ought not to underestimate is that he's very good at sharpening that political message. And the people I spoke to from across the political parties about Clive Palmer's messaging, even the ones who are vehemently opposed to the way he speaks and how he frames  things, admit that it is incredibly effective marketing. 

And so this is what the messaging is all about. It's essentially you can't trust these players who've controlled the game for so long, but you know, you can trust Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly. 

RUBY:
So Rick, these messages that are in Clive Palmer’s ads, playing on people’s fears, where do the ideas for these ad campaigns come from? Who writes these ads?

RICK:
I mean, he writes the ads himself, you know, he says, quote, unquote, he finds it easy because he just spits them out. And not only can he spit the copy out for the ads really quickly, but they've got everything in-house. So, because they've got that they can film up to 30 ads in a day because and this is very interesting, a Labour MP was like, you'll notice that he never actually publicises his actual candidates. And so it's just Clive and Craig Kelly and you put them in a warehouse and you can shoot back to back that 30 ads. And he's got the money to put those ads to air wherever he wants. And that's exactly what they do.

RUBY:
And so just how much is this costing him, Rick? How does his ad campaign spend compared to 2019?

RICK:
Yeah, so, you know, since August last year, they've spent already an astonishing $40 million and that's just some kind of political messaging in the advertising, you know, around that space. The vast majority of this was booked before the election was even called. So a lot of that was in billboards. And everyone's seen billboards. I don't know anyone in Australia who has not seen a yellow and black looks like a hornet or a wasp UAP billboard. 

RUBY:
Capital letters…

RICK:
Capital letters, you know, make Australia great again, all that kind of stuff. So you can see where the money's going. 

So yeah, a lot of this was pre-booked before the election campaign. They will be ramping up that spend. So we've got essentially another $40 million that he's going to spend in four weeks. 

RUBY:
Mm hmm. Okay. And so how does that that spin that Clive Palmer is indulging in? How does that compared to Labour or the Coalition?

RICK:
Yeah, this is fascinating. 

So the Facebook spend is three times as much as what Labor spent over the same period and four times as much as what the Liberal Party has spent on Facebook products over the, you know, since August 2020. 

So of the $11.6 million in political advertising booked through Google since November 2020, more than 90% of that is from Palmer's UAP like ranks and of $1.6. So here they've spent more than 22 times the amount placed by Labor. And for comparison, you know just how seismic the spending is. The Liberal Party has only spent $37,000 compared to 9.9 million and the National Party, I couldn't help but laugh. The Nationals, who bless them, have spent $150.

RUBY:
So it sounds like Clive Palmer is really outstripping everyone else when it comes to the amount of money that he's spending on political advertising right now. 

RICK:
Correct.

RUBY:
And I suppose in the last election when he was doing a similar advertising blitz, he ended up, as you've said, pivoting at the last moment. The ad campaign started targeting Labor. He did a preference deal with the Coalition and then went on to to ultimately claim credit for Scott Morrison's win. He's saying that that is not the plan now, that there won't be any deal made. But can we really trust that?

RICK:
No, I don't think we can now. Another Labour MP put it to me that Clive Palmer needs Coalition votes to top him up in his Senate run. So Clive Palmer's name is down to run for the Senate. And you know, the only logical place, you know, tens of major top ups for him to get, you know, spill over is from the LNP, if not from Labour and the Greens. Right. 

So in a sense, if Clive Palmer is thinking about a patent vote making himself into the cycle of Australian elections, they need a seat somewhere. He wants that Senate spot because a big part of their pitch at the moment when they're talking about UAP, most of it's negative attacks on the parties, but a big part of their pitch when they talk about themselves is saying we can be the balance of power. So he needs that Senate spot.

So we just got to we got to watch and see what he actually does. But certainly at the moment, things are tracking very similar to how they were in 2019. 

And I think this is kind of Clive Palmer's way of reminding the major parties, but particularly the coalition with with whom he could do more business and get, you know, a few favourable outlooks, I guess, from political ministers. 

This is his way of saying I can hurt you. I could be kind and choose not to. But that's really up to you. And I think there is a lot of that in this election, and it's kind of been his approach throughout his career with dealing with various political interests. I mean, the thing about Clive is that he has has worked and will work with anyone who's in government. And if Labor were to win the election, I guarantee you'll be saying lovely things about them as long as there is a scary opportunity for him to get something out of it. But if they rebuff him, he will spend more money in their next election campaign to kick them out. 

RUBY:
Rick, thank you so much for your time.

RICK:
Thanks, Ruby.

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RUBY:
Also in the news today…

Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan yesterday declared that the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 was “dead” and “all over bar the shouting.”

Canavan’s comments came just hours after the Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his government’s “absolute” commitment to the 2050 target. 

***

And the head of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence Andrew Shearer has denied that there was a failure by intelligence agencies to stop a military pact being signed between Solomon Islands and China. 

Shearer said it had been China’s strategy for the last decade to ramp up it’s presence in the indo-pacific. And the deal, which could see a Chinese military presence in the Solomon Islands, was a clear attempt to increase its influence.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is The Vote from 7am, see ya tomorrow.

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