Australia’s Richest Politician Quits: PUP Leader Clive Palmer Retires From Politics

Clive Palmer, Australia’s richest politician, announced he will disband his party, the PUP, and retire from politics today. The former real estate and mining tycoon will cancel the Palmer United Party’s registration as a federal political party on Wednesday, April 19, bringing to an end the party’s four-year lifespan.

In a statement, Mr. Palmer thanked his members and PUP candidates for their efforts since 2013 before offering pride over the role the PUP played in the previous parliament.

“Australia has a strong democracy and minor and major political parties have an important role to play. Palmer United demonstrated that in the 44th Parliament.”

But after winning no seats in the last federal and state elections and a number of memorable controversies surrounding the businessman, Palmer has drawn a line under his venture into Australian politics.

A man sits alone in a bank of green leather seats
Clive Palmer cuts an isolated figure while serving in the Lower House [Image by Jeff Postles/Getty Images]

The Short-Lived Life Of The PUP

Set up in 2013, the PUP won one seat in the Lower House, won by Clive Palmer himself. His party won a further three seats in the Upper House. The party also won a slew of MPs in the Queensland and Northern Territory parliaments.

As party leader, Clive Palmer promised to be “The Real Alternative” to the major political parties. The party’s focus included opposing the carbon and mining taxes, overturning erroneous detentions and maintaining welfare payments.

His manifesto for the 2016 elections focussed on stimulating demand in the economy by encouraging measures that would benefit big business. Considering his own personal wealth, it might well have been a surprise to voters to see him deliver assessments such as the following.

“We are all on Struggle Street together, but it’s our country and it’s our responsibility to do all we can to make the lives of all our citizens better than [they are] today.”

By 2016, the PUP’s short-lived political successes began to unravel as quickly as they had risen three years before.

Palmer chose not to re-contest his own seat, two of his Senators had already left the party (Jacqui Lambie and Glen Lazarus) and Dio Wang lost his Senate seat in the election with barely 500 first preference votes.

His state-level PUP MPs, who had once defected to him from conservative parties, left the PUP too. None of his remaining candidates won a single seat across the three state elections the PUP contested.

Clive Palmer’s request to cancel the PUP’s registration as a federal party today sees the end of the short life of this political party. With no politicians in any state or federal level parliament, it will be a quiet exit. And this, above all else, is probably the element that is most unusual.

A man with white hair gives a speech with the Australian flag flying in the distance

Clive Palmer: Eccentric, Rich And Controversial

Clive Palmer is no stranger to media attention and controversy. One look at his biography is enough to get a sense that Palmer is a man who is always striving to get the cameras pointing his way.

As a businessman, Clive Palmer was rich enough to retire at the age of 30. He had accumulated this first significant wealth, around $40 million (AUD). But his retirement didn’t last long.

He soon invested in mining, his biggest coup being the Pilbara iron ore tenement, which he bought cheaply and sold on to a Chinese company for around $200 million plus royalties. He made yet more money in the industries that have often produced Australia’s richest people: coal, nickel, oil and gas.

How he spent his riches is perhaps more revealing of his larger-than-life and eccentric character. Alongside luxury homes and private jets, he also owned an Australian soccer club and a top-class golf resort.

The soccer club was closed down by the Australian Football Federation after it was run erratically by Palmer, and the golf club members sued him after he turned the course into a dinosaur park called “Palmersaurus.”

Yet perhaps his plan to rebuild the Titanic and repeat the ill-fated sailing from Southampton to New York in 2018 was his most eccentric. At the time of writing, there is no news that Clive Palmer’s journey across the Atlantic will take place.

Within the political ranks, Clive Palmer was first an important donor to the Queensland Nationals, with whom he has a life membership. In 2013, he was discouraged from running for the LNP by soon-to-be Prime Minister Tony Abbott, before being banned from that party.

In response, Palmer set up the PUP and poured around $25 million of his own money into the first election campaign. After winning a few seats in this initial foray for the PUP, two Senators quite long before the next elections.

The out-spoken Jacqui Lambie, who now runs her own party, left first. She was followed by former rugby international Glen Lazarus who complained that Clive Palmer had been a bully. With only Dio Wang still sitting in the Senate, the PUP lost any real bargaining power and the overwhelming defeat in 2016 was somewhat inevitable.

Clive Palmer himself was never far from controversy, regularly storming out of media interviews. He accused Wendi Deng, the then-wife of media mogul Ruper Murdoch, of being a Chinese spy.

He also told Tony Abbott to “commit suicide” over changes to the education system and used social media to gloat on the downfall of rival politicians, including that of the former Prime Minister.

Today sees the end of the short-lived political life of both Clive Palmer and his PUP. We will see in the coming days whether other politicians will present their own goodbye videos for Mr. Palmer.

One keen observer of Palmer’s trajectory may well be another real estate tycoon turned politician. President Trump’s policies also parallel a number of the PUP’s, though he will no doubt hope his political life lasts a little longer than Clive Palmer’s.

The PUP may have promised to be “The Right Way” but, in the end, the controversy that has followed Clive Palmer through the business world seemed to meet him once more in the world of politics. Though he clearly managed to achieve much in the business world, such consistent controversies rarely lead to sustained success in politics, as today’s events have finally proven.

In the words of the man himself: Goodbye Clive Palmer. Goodbye PUP.

[Featured Image by Stefan Postles/Getty Images]