Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has all but ruled out backing Clive Palmer as a candidate for the Queensland seat of Lilley – held by the Treasurer Wayne Swan – saying the Liberal National Party needs a grassroots candidate who will ‘‘do the hard yards’’.
Mr Abbott said news of Mr Palmer’s bid for preselection had come as a ‘‘surprise’’ and confirmed he had not spoken with Mr Palmer before his announcement.
The LNP in Queensland would decide if he won pre-selection, Mr Abbott said, but indicated he would strongly back a ‘‘grassroots’’ candidate for the seat.
‘‘I was as surprised as everyone else at the announcement today. Clive Palmer, like millions and millions of other Australians, is desperate to see a bad government gone,’’ he said.
‘‘But like everyone else who wants to run for the LNP, I’m afraid he has to run the gauntlet of a very testing preselection process.
‘‘I will be urging the LNP to pick the right candidate for every seat in Queensland and the right candidate ... is someone who is going to to do the hard yards, knocking on doors, going to shopping centres and talking to newspapers.’’
In a clear indication Mr Abbott was not in favour of Mr Palmer’s proposed tilt at federal politics, he dismissed further questions on the matter from the journalists, saying: ‘‘Clive is a character and I think I’ve said what needs to be said.’’
Mr Palmer also announced he planned to build a replica of the Titanic.
‘‘Good luck to him,’’ Mr Abbott added.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said he could only speculate on Mr Palmer’s motivations, but he assumed the potential candidate was appalled by the government’s lack of vision and financial management.
“As to what happens, that’s a matter for the LNP,” he said.
“I don’t run around endorsing candidates for preselection.”
No, this is not a stunt. It's a factual reality.
Asked whether he agreed with Mr Abbott’s comments the party should select a candidate who could work hard doorknocking and talking to people in shopping centres, Mr Newman smiled and said: “I’m sure Mr Palmer can do that if he becomes the candidate but that’s a matter for the party.”
Mr Palmer said he would seek preselection in Mr Swan's Queensland seat of Lilley.
"He's been a sitting member for far too long and it's about time we get this country moving again," Mr Palmer said of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Swan, who holds the seat with a margin of just 3.2 per cent, took to Twitter to respond.
"Over the moon to fight in Lilley for relief for families and small businesses, against Clive and [Opposition Leader] Tony Abbott fighting for Clive's profits," Mr Swan tweeted.
Mr Palmer, recently one of the targets of Mr Swan's attacks on the influence of "vested interests" in the national political debate, said he wanted to grow the nation's prosperity and lift standards in Parliament.
"I think [Opposition Leader] Tony Abbott's a great leader," he said.
"He's the next prime minister of Australia."
Mr Palmer, a former major donor to the LNP, dismissed suggestions he would need to give up his business interests.
"I don't think I have to give up anything if I win the seat. Politics is about ideas; you're not there for money. You're not going to become rich being a politician," he said.
"I'm not going into politics to pursue business interests; I'm going into politics if I can [to] contribute to ideas, where this country should go.
"We've only got a small family company."
Mr Palmer, who in 1984 was defeated by Peter Slipper for National Party preselection for the seat of Fisher, said he would follow the policies of the LNP and this included repealing the mining tax.
"I'm just putting my name in like any other member to serve the community," he said.
"Queenslanders in particular voted very definitely that they wanted change at the last state election; but they want more than change; they want follow-through to see things are happening in this country."
This morning, Mr Swan said that the Liberal Party stood to become a "wholly owned subsidiary of Clive Palmer" if Mr Palmer was successful in the battle for Lilley.
"I could not be happier to fight in Lilley for tax breaks for 16,000 small businesses and 51,000 workers, while Mr Palmer and Mr Abbott fight to protect Mr Palmer's multibillion profits," Mr Swan said.
The Treasurer called on Mr Abbott and Mr Palmer to spell out the nature of Mr Palmer's financial contribution to the Liberal Party before the next election.
"Mr Abbott and Mr Palmer must immediately guarantee that Mr Palmer will not use his massive wealth to buy his way into Parliament or influence in any way the election in Lilley," he said.
Mr Swan also called on Mr Abbott to declare whether he supported Mr Palmer's CIA conspiracy theories and whether he accepted the mining magnate's intention to be only a part-time member of Parliament if elected.
"I believe we live in a community, not in a corporation," Mr Swan said at a media conference this morning.
"This Labor government believes that the tremendous opportunities of the Asian century and the mining boom should be shared fairly with all Australians, not just captured by a fortunate few."
Last month, Mr Palmer made headlines when he accused the Greens of being linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency through a report entitled Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom.
He then went on to tell reporters his comments were designed to take negative attention off the Liberal National Party in the lead-up to the Queensland election on March 24.
The billionaire has been involved in an altercation with Football Federation Australia, after the body axed his Gold Coast United club from the A-League following Mr Palmer's outspoken dissent on a range of issues.
Mr Palmer has also been involved in legal action over the future of the Hyatt Coolum resort on the Sunshine Coast, and announced plans to sue QR National over an alleged breach of confidentiality regarding a proposed rail link to the Galilee Basin coal region.
The LNP recently put out a call for potential candidates to put their hands up to run for a number of Queensland seats, including Lilley, held by Mr Swan with a 3.2 per cent buffer.
The LNP set today as the deadline for potential candidates to lodge expressions of interest.
Mr Palmer made the preselection announcement on the same day he flagged plans to launch a new international shipping venture.
It would include a fleet of world class luxury liners including a 21st-century version of the Titanic.
He had signed a memorandum of understanding with state-owned Chinese company CSC Jinling Shipyard to build Titanic II, according to the statement.
Mr Palmer denied his political tilt was a stunt.
"No, this is not a stunt. It's a factual reality," he said of the bid for preselection.
Mr Swan won the seat in 1993 but was defeated at the election three years later.
He regained the seat, which stretches from Brisbane's inner north to Moreton Bay, in 1998, and has been re-elected at every federal election since.
- with Judith Ireland