Australian mining millionaire and his tiny party could have outsized impact on national agenda

The Associated Press

In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer speaks during a news conference in New York, about his intention to build the Titanic II. 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. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

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In December, he opened Palmersaurus, a park with life-sized mechanized dinosaurs beside the golf course of his luxury Palmer Coolum Resort.

Palmer also says his company Blue Star Line will take delivery of Titanic II, a replica of the 835-cabin ocean liner that struck and iceberg and sank in 1912, from a Chinese shipyard in time for it to make its maiden passenger voyage from Southampton in Britain to New York in 2016.

"One of the benefits of global warming is there hasn't been as many icebergs in the North Atlantic these days," Palmer quipped at a press conference in New York City last year when he outlined the design plans to the strains of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."

His political success, at least so far, is partly due to widespread voter disillusionment with the major parties, said Clive Bean, a Queensland University of Technology politics professor.

It's difficult to know what sort of political agenda Palmer will try to push come July. His carefully-crafted populism is short on policy detail, said Williams of Griffith University.

"He would be hard-pressed to name a specific Palmer policy or Palmer demographic because what Palmer is saying is: 'Australian politics are appalling. Let's make them better' — that doesn't really say anything," Williams said. "So what it's doing is really cashing in on a sense of disenchantment."

Palmer said his party's ambition was to become "the No. 1 party in Australia."

But he's backpedaled from previous statements that he wants to become prime minister.

"I think I'm available to serve the people of Australia. I don't know whether it's an ambition (to become prime minister) to be honest with you," Palmer said before abruptly ending a telephone interview with the AP.

Whatever his political ambitions, Williams said, one important motivation is to show that "no one's going to take Clive Palmer lightly."

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