Australian behind new Titanic plans political bid

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By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A wealthy Australian who is rebuilding the Titanic plans to do the political equivalent. Clive Palmer said Friday he intends to refloat the United Australian Party, a once dominant force in Australian politics that sank without a trace in the 1940s.

The mining magnate plans to revive the Great Depression-era party and stand candidates for every seat in the House of Representatives and Senate at general elections on Sept. 14. Palmer intends to run himself in the electoral district in Queensland state where he owns a golf resort.

"I'm standing to be the next prime minister of Australia," he said.

"I have no personal interest. I have made enough money in my life. I'm not seeking any enrichment of wealth for myself, I'm seeking it for the Australian people," he added.

Analysts say the UAP could win a few conservatives seats with a campaign bankrolled by Palmer. But any gains by the party are unlikely to alter the election result, with opinion polls pointing to a crushing victory by the conservative opposition.

Palmer said he decided to enter politics because of poor policy decisions by the center-left Labor Party government and a lack of confidence in the opposition coalition.

He said his party would stand on a platform of honesty in government free of vested interests.

"Politicians are being compromised by the reliance on lobbyists and their client's check books," he said.

He described the historic example of UAP as a "shining light" for where Australia needed to go.

Palmer had been the leading donor to the conservative Liberal National Party which governs Queensland and is part of the federal opposition. But he quit the party in November after failing to win its endorsement to run for federal politics against Deputy Prime Wayne Swan and public clashes with the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

The 59-year-old businessman has cultivated a reputation for bold and unconventional plans. In February, he announced that construction will soon commence in a Chinese shipyard on a replica of the famously doomed ocean liner Titanic that could set sail in 2016.

Last month, he announced he had ordered 117 mechanical dinosaurs from China as added attractions to his luxury Palmer Coolum Resort north of the Queensland capital Brisbane.

Australian National University political scientist Norm Abjorensen described the original UAP as a divided and "hastily cobbled together alliance" during a period of economic crisis that met an end analogous to the Titanic hitting an iceberg.

"It's really the only time in our political history where a major political party ... has just about totally imploded," Abjorensen said. "I don't think Clive's inspiration is all that bright."

But bankrolled by Palmer's fortune, the revamped party could win a few seats, he said.

Palmer said an application for the party's registration has been made to electoral authorities. Two Queensland state independent lawmakers are considering joining the party.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard declined to comment on Palmer's political bid other than to tell Australian Broadcasting Corp. the registration of the UAP was "a question for Mr. Palmer and the appropriate party registration processes."

Opposition leader Tony Abbott dismissed the prospect of Palmer splitting the conservative vote.

"The people of Australia are very savvy here and they are going to vote for the people who are serious; they are going to vote for the people who have done the work, who have put in the hard yards, and who can deliver competent, stable and trustworthy government," Abbott told reporters.

Palmer will not reveal his wealth. Forbes estimates he is worth $895 million while Australia's Business Review weekly last year estimated his fortune at almost $4 billion.

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