The biggest wild card of this election period may not yet have been played. At about this point in the 2019 campaign, two weeks before voters went to the polls, Clive Palmer decided to light the torch against Labor leader Bill Shorten.
“We thought it would be a disaster for Australia [if Shorten won]Palmer told ABC days after the election.
“So we decided to polarize the electorate and we thought we’d put what publicity we had left … to explain to people what Shorten’s economic plans for the country were and how they should care about them.”
Despite spending a record $84 million in that election campaign, Palmer’s United Australia Party did not win a single seat. But many in the Labor Party credit the billionaire mining magnate’s relentless anti-Shorten blitz in the closing stages as helping to depress the party’s primary vote.
Three years later, the only thing we can say with certainty about Palmer’s electoral plans is that he still has a lot of money to spend without real political gain. He has promised to spend about $70 million during the campaign.
Those messages, with the ubiquitous yellow UAP, are everywhere, from billboards littering the roads to getting in the way of your YouTube binge. Recent data also shows where Palmer is outperforming the major parties.
The UAP has spent more than $2 million on general display advertising, totally dwarfing Labor and the Coalition. And in Google, there is not even competition. Since 2020, $15.5 million of the $18.3 million spent on political advertising has gone to the UAP.
That could spell trouble for Labour. Although Palmer says he will not prefer the main parties (telling the National Press Club last month that he would prefer the Greens over Labor or the Liberals), his saturation of the airwaves could displace opposition messages.
But so far, Labor would be relieved that he hasn’t gone into all-out attack mode against opposition leader Anthony Albanese… yet.
Instead, messages from Palmer and UAP leader Craig Kelly have been all over the place. Palmer is pitching a wild idea of ”using the power of the Constitution” to cap interest rates at 3%, which has become the UAP’s signature policy this election.
In a rambling speech to launch his party’s election campaign, Palmer discussed selling off assets to foreign buyers, the need to help more young Australians get into the property market, and paying off $1 trillion in Labor and Liberal debt to through a mineral export license.
There is also a policy on abolishing all student debt, which sounds like something straight out of the Greens.
The big takeaway from the UAP ad analysis is that after spending most of 2021 spreading vaccine misinformation and attacking “mandates,” the party is trying to turn its attention to broader cost-of-living issues, while tapping into some of the simmering dissatisfaction around lockdowns and the pandemic.
A recent widely used advertisement is a good example. In it, a UAP candidate stares into a camera and recites the following message:
“Was it worth it? Domestic violence, a trillion dollars in debt, broken families, failed businesses, depression, loneliness. Never let it happen again.”
In other words, a kind of vague tone meant to attract various types of disgruntled people.
So far, the two main parties are under attack. If anything, there has been more criticism of Morrison, the starter.
Will Palmer get something out of his big ad campaign? Kelly, who should have run in the Senate, will almost certainly lose his seat to Hughes in the House. Various opinion polls have put the UAP in a consistent 3-5% primary vote.
Palmer represents the party’s best chance for a place in Parliament, fighting Pauline Hanson, former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. (Liberal Democrat) and Coalition Senator Amanda Stoker for the most rogue seat in the Senate.
But some Labor strategists worry that the party could make inroads into suburban Melbourne seats such as McEwen, Hawke and Dunkley, where voters upset by the city’s lengthy lockdowns could back the UAP, causing its preferences are crucial.
So far, Palmer remains unpredictable and fulfills his role as the agent of chaos in Australian politics. While Australians have largely ignored his attacks on vaccines, there are still plenty of undecided voters turning away from the main parties.
There is still no clear feeling that the vote will go to the UAP. Unless Palmer decides to give Morrison a big solid and hit Albanese in the closing stages, his impact on this pick could be minimal.