Billionaire Clive Palmer has announced he will seek preselection as a Coalition candidate in Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley, citing the recent scandal involving the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, as partly prompting his move into politics.
The controversy over Slipper has grown to include Prime Minister Julia Gillard herself, after she released a statement yesterday retracting her support for both Slipper and embattled MP Craig Thomson.
Gillard has distanced herself from Thomson due to his involvement in the Health Services Union controversy.
The announcement has led to questions about whether Gillard will survive as party leader before the next election, with reports suggesting party members are calling for a leadership change.
The decline in Labor’s popularity has prompted Palmer to make his move, saying at a press conference this morning he had “put my name as an expression of interest”.
Wayne Swan has responded to Palmer’s announcement, saying on Twitter that “over the moon to fight in Lilley for relief for famlies and small businesses, against Clive and Tony Abbott fighting for Clive’s profits”.
Swam also challenged Tony Abbott that Palmer could not be allowed to use his wealth to buy his way into parliament.
Palmer is no stranger to politics, involving himself in a campaign against the government and the mining tax last year, as well as previously running for preselection in the seat of Fisher – held by Peter Slipper – back in the 1980s.
Wayne Swan held the seat of Lilley from 1993 to 1996, and then lost it until 1998.
“I have different ideas to what the Treasurer has, I want to put them forward so people can have a vote on that,” Palmer said this morning. “What matters to me is getting a better standard of living for our people.”
However, Palmer said that despite his vast interests in the minerals market, he did not foresee any problems with declaring his investments.
“I am not going into politics to pursue business interests, I am going into politics to contribute to ideas,” he said.
“I may be wrong more than I am right, but what I do treasure in this country is a sense of democracy.”
The announcement comes alongside another of Palmer’s more eccentric projects – a deal with a Chinese shipyard to build a replica of the Titanic. The billionaire told reporters this morning he intends to sail the ship in 2016.
Palmer also recently set up a new soccer league to break away from Football Federation Australia.
But his announcement highlights the growing trouble the government faces over the Peter Slipper controversy. Last night, after arriving back from an overseas trip, Julia Gillard said she had requested Craig Thomson remove himself from the Labor caucus, while she also asked Slipper to step aside from his role as Speaker for a longer period of time.
Gillard said in a press conference yesterday she had become “increasingly aware of the depth of feeling” regarding the Slipper and Thomson issues, causing her to act.
”I feel keenly that Australians are looking at this Parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it. I want to ensure that Australians can … feel respect for this institution.”
“I think that there is a line which has been crossed here,” she said.
However, Gillard also said that while Thomson had agreed to go to the cross-bench for now, she said she was confident that “at some stage in the near future I’ll be ringing Sam…and saying that these matters have now been resolved”.
Gillard’s timing has been called into question, with critics slamming the Prime Minister for taking too long to act, and allowing major scandals to embroil the government just a week before budget, and just a few months after a leadership spill.
Meanwhile, Slipper still faces allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of Cabcharge fares, although he continues to deny any wrongdoing.
“I believe … it is imperative that the dignity of parliament be upheld,” he said yesterday, referring to his decision to delay a return to the Speaker’s chair. “This will avoid what could be a controversial debate on the floor of parliament which would not assist the standing of parliament.”
The Opposition has taken the opportunity to slam the government, with Tony Abbott saying Thomson should be denied his vote in Parliament.
With Thomson and Slipper gone, and with Anna Burke in the Speaker’s chair, Labor only has 70 members on Parliament floor.
Both controversies come as a new poll shows Labor’s grip on power has continued to weaken, with a Galaxy Poll showing the primary vote is at just 30%, compared to the Coalition’s 49%, with the Coalition also leading the two-party preferred vote at 56% to 44%.