Mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party gained a third seat in the West Australian Senate election re-run on the weekend, meaning the Coalition will be relying on it to support its agenda.
The re-election occurred after results from the September federal election were declared invalid as around 1400 ballots went missing in a recount.
PUP has picked up three seats with a 7% swing, while the Greens picked up a 6.7% swing.
The outcome means Palmer will control four votes in the Senate. These comprise the new seat of Zhenya Wang in Western Australia, along with Glenn Lazarus in Queensland and Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. PUP also has an association with Motoring Enthusiast Party senator-elect Ricky Muir in Victoria.
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University of Melbourne School of Social and Political Science professor Brian Galligan told SmartCompany the result signals interesting times ahead for the Coalition.
“What the result has done is consolidate the position of Clive Palmer’s party,” Galligan says.
“It means that depending on the legislation, there will be a lot of negotiation to get things passed through the senate. The government will need the support of the Greens and the PUP party and other independents.”
He says the nature of each issue will determine the degree to which Palmer uses his “little bloc of power” in the Senate. He expects him to be vocal when it comes to issues such as border control, taxes, mining tax, the carbon tax and Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme.
“Clive is not easy to come on side… he can be demanding on issues (that matter to him),” he says.
“He has pitched himself as a business populist… he is a voice that picks up the disgruntled voters.”
Galligan says Palmer is a unique combination of being a wealthy businessman that in many ways fits the business “establishment”, but he is also a champion for populist issues and is happy to go against the establishment.
Galligan says this combination could lead to an uneasy ride for Tony Abbott.
“Palmer won’t just tick the boxes… he will hold out on the populist issues and this will get him a lot of publicity.”
However, he also says it is important not to overstate Palmer’s position. “One shouldn’t exaggerate these things”, he says, as “most governments don’t have control of the Senate”.
Analysts have suggested the WA results point to a protest vote against Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government.
“The WA people are cheesed off that they have had to vote again,” Galligan says.
“There are some people disgruntled that the Abbott government have been in for months and nothing special has happened.”
Palmer released a statement on Friday criticising Abbott and calling him a “hypocrite” for attacking the PUP election spending.
Palmer said he was responding to ongoing accusations by Abbott that the PUP was trying to buy Senate seats.
“What a hypocrite the PM is for accusing me of buying seats when this week he brought his entire cabinet to Perth to campaign,’’ Palmer said.
“This is a total abuse of power and waste of taxpayer funds.”
Palmer said the Liberals “arrogantly” believed they had a right to rule and were “terrified” by competition.
“The Palmer United Party offers choice and the major parties don’t like it,” he said.
“Only with Palmer United holding the balance of power in the Senate will the people of WA reclaim their lost GST.”