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Aussie millionaire primes for political spotlight

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 3, 2014 at 12:45 am •  Published: May 3, 2014
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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Clive Palmer is a larger-than-life Australian multimillionaire whose headline-grabbing projects include building a replica of the Titanic and a Jurassic Park-style collection of 160 mechanized dinosaurs.

The 59-year-old mining magnate also looks poised to stamp his quirky style on the Australian government's legislative agenda when three members of his newly formed Palmer United Party and another political ally assume Senate seats in July to create a small but potentially influential voting bloc.

Palmer, who's worth an estimated $550 million, will be flaunting his growing political stature in Boston this weekend when he rubs shoulders with America's political elite at an award ceremony for former President George H.W. Bush.

"Most of the leading members of the U.S. administration will be there, and it's something I normally do," Palmer told The Associated Press, referring to attending the ceremony for the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

This year, he's bringing with him the four senators-elect who have pledged him their support.

Palmer's generosity toward his novice allies is typical, observers say. He's been known to give employees luxury Mercedes-Benz cars and overseas vacations as Christmas bonuses.

"Clive likes to be generous, Clive likes to be the benefactor — a man of action, the center of attention," said Paul Williams, a political scientist at Australia's Griffith University. "Clive is the extrovert's extrovert; he's got a big personality and a big ego."

Palmer used to be one of the biggest political donors backing Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative coalition.

But last year, Palmer decided to form and bankroll his own party and ended up splitting the conservative vote in September's parliamentary elections.

Palmer won a seat in the House of Representatives in his home district in Queensland state — winning by just 53 votes. Three Palmer United Party, or PUP, candidates, including former rugby star Glenn Lazarus, won seats in the Senate, an extraordinary level of success for a minor party.

Ricky Muir, who was elected to the Senate for the obscure Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, quickly struck a deal to support the PUP, giving Palmer effective control of four seats in the 76-member Senate — and crucial bargaining power.

Abbott's coalition has control of the more powerful House of Representatives, where the party that controls a majority of seats forms government.

But come July, his ruling coalition will control only 33 seats in the Senate, the chamber that decides which bills passed by the House of Representatives will become law. The opposition Labor Party and like-minded Greens party will have 35 seats.

So when Labor and Greens senators vote together, as they often have in the past, Abbott's only hope to achieve a majority — 39 seats — will be Palmer's party.

Palmer has long opposed Labor and the Greens.

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