- Clive Palmer's nickel refinery in voluntary administration
- Palmer company donated $290,000 to his party weeks before 237 job losses
Clive Palmer's election prospects are in freefall alongside his slumping nickel business, according to experienced political pundits.
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Palmer demands cash to save 800 jobs
Clive Palmer wants a state government handout to keep his Townsville nickel plant open but the Treasurer "won't be held to ransom".
ABC election guru Antony Green believes the Palmer United Party's vote at the next federal election will all but "disappear" while minor parties powerbroker Glenn Druery said PUP would currently attract no more than 2 per cent of the primary vote, with its only chance of success a single Senate seat in either Queensland or Western Australia.
Mr Green said the strife at Mr Palmer's Townsville-based Queensland Nickel refinery, which was placed in administration on Monday after sacking 237 workers on Friday, has been the biggest blow so far to the shrinking PUP.
The high point for the party was taking nearly 10 per cent of the primary Senate vote in Queensland at the 2013 election and more than 12 per cent in the WA rerun in 2014 – both after big-spending campaigns backed by Mr Palmer's business interests.
"I would guess that that vote has just disappeared," said Mr Green.
"The combination of his business problems and his inability to hold on to senators [Jacqui Lambie and Glen Lazarus, who both defected from PUP] suggests the party is a one-hit wonder.
"The biggest damage has been from the business side of things. The company has gone belly up but he has been making all these donations from the company to PUP."
Queensland Nickel registered a donation of $290,000 to PUP on December 31 and gave $15.2 million and $5.9 million in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years, respectively.
In the months after the 2013 Coalition election win, Mr Palmer was perhaps the most powerful political figure in Australia after then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with his bloc of three crossbench votes critical to the passage of any government bill opposed by Labor and the Greens.
A Clive Palmer Christmas carol
Clive Palmer himself joins Rocco Fazzari in bringing in some Christmas cheer to the capital.
But Mr Green said Mr Palmer was very unlikely to even retain his own seat of Fairfax on the Sunshine Coast if he stands again and the party's only chance of success would be if the PUP leader ran for a Senate seat in Queensland.
In August, Fairfax Media revealed Mr Palmer was weighing up a switch to the Senate after moving to lock in a powerful preference swap deal with crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party and Family First's Bob Day.
Mr Druery, the so-called "preference whisperer", said recent byelections highlighted the waning appeal of PUP.
The party pulled a paltry 0.5 per cent of the primary vote in North Sydney and its vote more than halved to just 3.1 per cent in the WA seat of Canning despite having pulled the so-called "donkey vote" position at the top of the ballot paper.
"I don't believe Clive's money will be enough to win him a seat. He will need to be very clever if he is to be successful," Mr Druery said.
A spokesman for Mr Palmer could not be reached. Queensland Nickel, owned wholly by Mr Palmer, was placed into voluntary administration but managing director Clive Mensink, who is Mr Palmer's nephew, said he was confident it would trade its way back to health.
Amid trouble on other business fronts, including a long-running legal dispute with his Chinese partners in an iron ore project in WA, Mr Mensink has called the PUP leader a "hero" for staking $2.5 million of his personal wealth to pay nickel workers before Christmas.
Once regularly referred to as a "billionaire", in January last year Mr Palmer fell out of the Forbes top 50 business rich list. That means his estimated wealth had fallen below $690 million.
Plunging commodity prices further eroded his fortune in 2015 and it was reported in December that he has been forced to sell two private jets while two others he owns sit idle in Brisbane.
Treasurer Scott Morrison on Monday questioned Mr Palmer's handling of the Queensland Nickel issue.
"Clive has a lot to answer for up there," he said.
"Asking the Queensland or even the federal government to bail him out is a bit rich."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it didn't matter if the company was Mr Palmer's or Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's. "I want to be reassured that the entitlements are there for the workforce," he said.
Despite expressing concern for the workers involved, he said he did not think it was "automatically" the government's role to bail out uncompetitive businesses.