Bill Shorten needs Clive ‘The Kingmaker’ Palmer
MONEY can't buy you happiness. It can, however, buy you electoral success.
Watching Clive Palmer going through his dough on election advertising is a bit like spending a day shopping with Sir Elton John.
The Queensland maverick behind the United Australia Party is spending more money at this election than the Labor and Liberal parties combined.
The eye-watering figure to date is $31 million, and the projected spend by the end of the campaign is expected to reach $50 million.
The consensus when this election started was that Palmer's cashed-up candidacy would prove to be expensive but fruitless madness.
It now appears there is a method to the madness, with this week's Newspoll showing that UAP polling in the order of 10-15 per cent in several marginal seats, where preferences will determine the results.
The polls also show that Palmer himself will be elected comfortably as a Senator for Queensland.
It is difficult to say whether this comes down to the policy appeal of Palmer or the power of saturation advertising. I suspect it's a bit of both.
My radio station has been playing Palmer's ads non-stop for the better part of two months now.
During the course of our daily three-hour program the ads would run at least six times, with that irritating but memorable reworking of the glam metal band Twisted Sister's We're Not Going to Take It providing the jingle.
The weird thing about these ads is that it is often impossible to discern a clear policy message from them at all.
Clive has a machinegun delivery where he fires off a grab bag of issues from provisional tax to nuclear power, to his absurd claim about Labor's "secret plan" to force five million Australians into unemployment.
Not only do many of the ads make little sense, some of them are contradictory given Palmer's own position as a mining magnate who has grown mega-rich courtesy of his relationship with China, yet is now railing about the sinister takeover of Australian infrastructure by Beijing.
All this from a man who saved money by having his election posters printed in and shipped from China, underscoring the vast economies of scale with which his campaign is operating.
Critics of Palmer - or rather, critics of Palmer's supporters - express disbelief that anyone would vote for the man, given what happened last time.
It is true that after the 2013 federal election the Palmer United Party was a rolled-gold freak show, with both the colourful Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie and rugby league great Glenn Lazarus, aka The Brick With Eyes, both quitting to serve as independents after falling out with their leader.
At the same time, another seven PUP MPs who had been elected to state and territory parliaments all quit the party, too, many of them citing Palmer's abrasive style and the fact that the party operated more as a centralised personality cult than a consultative political outfit.
Meanwhile, Palmer was having massive financial problems with his business, and was rightly condemned for failing to pay outstanding entitlements to his Townsville workforce, a fact he only promised last week to put right as he continued to blow cash on election ads with some $7 million in worker benefits still unpaid.
In a policy sense, aside from his intellectually inconsistent dislike of Chinese investment, the only two Clive Palmer positions I can readily recall were that he wanted to bring dinosaurs back to life and he wanted to rebuild the Titanic.
Yet he is the potential kingmaker of the 2019 federal election.
The criticism of Palmer's supporters goes that no-one in their right mind could support the party given what happened last time. It's a criticism that exposes a serious lack of self-awareness on the part of the major parties.
People might not remember what happened when they voted for Clive Palmer last time, but they can definitely remember what happened when they voted Labor or Liberal last time.
They voted for Rudd and got Gillard, they voted for Gillard and got Rudd, they voted for Abbott and got Turnbull, and now it's Scott Morrison who is leading the Liberals to the election.
Palmer's success can be explained simply. He has used saturation advertising to play into that deep-seated and widely-held hostility towards the major parties, a hostility that has been intensified by a decade of unprecedented leadership turmoil and indulgence in Canberra.
He has also benefited from the damage done to One Nation through the Al Jazeera expose, where many people who were set to register a protest vote against the majors by voting for Pauline have now pulled away from her party on account of its demonstrated extremism.
Bill Shorten is having a messy campaign. He's made himself a big policy target on major economic issues, when he has never been regarded as an economic policy guy.
The vast and unpredictable nature of his changes to negative gearing, superannuation and renewables policy means he is always going to struggle with real-time explanations on the campaign trail.
Shorten is John Hewson, only with more cakes.
To that end, Clive Palmer is the man Bill Shorten needs.
He has the capacity to erode and splinter the conservative vote, particularly in Queensland, denying the Coalition the chance to make the gains it needs to offset probable losses in Victoria.
Perversely, Bill Shorten's best path to victory - as the most left-wing leader Labor has had in years - comes courtesy of the populist conservative parties headed by Palmer and Hanson who take more first preferences away from the Coalition than from Labor.
There's only one person in Australia who has grown to love the sound of that infernal Twisted Sister song, and his name certainly isn't Scott, but Bill.