In a political climate where a man who led a state Liberal caucus five years ago can become a minister in a Labor government, things are getting a bit loose at the moment. Something that seems to have been ignored largely by the mainstream media is this Guardian piece yesterday on Clive Palmer stonewalling. The main story is about Labor denying an earlier Guardian report that they would support a freeze on family tax benefits, but I think the Palmer element is more compelling anyway.
The PUP’s leader, Clive Palmer, told Guardian Australia on Monday that he and his three senators had met over the weekend and resolved they would not negotiate in any way or even speak to the government about any budget measures.The media seem to be treating this as Clive-being-Clive, just another act in the circus. What if he held fast to this threat, not just on the budget but everything else he didn't like about the Liberal platform, which seems to be most of it? What if the PUP turned into another Tea Party, blocking everything they can to cause maximum pain for political elites? The Tea Party prevents a huge raft of legislation supported not only by Democrats but also the non-TP establishment faction of the Republican Party through the Hastert Rule, which nobbles majority rule in US Congress through a twisted interpretation of the rules of party discipline.
“This is an attack on Australia’s way of life. Our party room resolved not to talk to the Liberal and National parties at all,” he said.
Asked whether a carte blanche refusal to negotiate was not an unusual tactic for a party holding balance-of-power votes in the Senate, he said: “Well we are unusual, we don’t like them, we don’t like this budget and we aren’t going to talk to them.”
The stance, if adhered to, would put in doubt any legislation the government sought to pass through the new Senate – which sits from 1 July – that was opposed by Labor and the Greens.
Assuming that the AMEP senator follows Clive's lead, a PUP bloc of four which votes no on everything means the Liberals can't get legislation through with the votes of the other minor parties. If the PUPs abstain, leaving 72 live votes, that means the government could still win with their 33 plus all four of Xenophon, DLP, LDP and Family First - though getting all four of those cats to agree on herd direction will be highly problematic.
Operationally, it would mean that the Liberals would have to turn to the Greens or Labor to pass their legislation through the Senate. As Taylor says, the Greens have a lot of problems with the road-centric vision of Keynesianism that the government is presenting, so they could be an anti-road roadblock bloc just as much as Palmer, for different reasons.
In some ways this would be a relief to Abbott, as he is clearly unsuited to negotiation with minor parties and is much more comfortable bashing Labor for not cheering his every exhalation. He might even welcome Washington-style gridlock for three years, because it would allow him to revert back to opposition leader mode. Local ACT businesses might be terrorised once again on a daily basis by the media press pack descending at sparrow fart to film Abbott unloading eggplants, filleting barramundi and punching pig carcasses, followed by rousing condemnations of This Illegitimate Pseudo-Government. The fact that his government might not achieve anything wouldn't concern him, as it was never destined to in its first term anyway.
The public repudiated both major parties, and empowered Palmer to keep the bastards from wrecking the joint. Clive saying no to Abbott would only be a continuation of the electorate saying no to Abbott via the polls. It's classic populism, and it works. That's democracy for you.