Clive Palmer at a press conference in Melbourne for his United Australia Party. Photo: Simon Schluter
Independent MP Tony Windsor may consider trying to register Clive Palmer's United Australia Party himself, if it turns out there is a conspiracy afoot to prevent Mr Palmer from using the name.
Mr Windsor has expressed suspicions about the motives of a rival party – the Uniting Australia Party – which lodged an application for party registration with the Australian Electoral Commission in March.
The member for New England says that there is little public detail about the group and has questioned whether one of the major parties is in fact behind it.
While Mr Windsor is not considering joining forces with Mr Palmer at the ballot box, he says he wants to protect the rights of all Australians to run for office.
Mr Palmer announced last month that he was reforming the United Australia Party, which was dissolved in 1945, and would run candidates in every lower house seat and Senate spot at the federal election. But his grand plan has hit one potential snag as the Electoral Act prohibits the registration of parties that have names similar to that of other parties, which they say may confuse voters.
In a press conference in Melbourne on Friday, Mr Palmer would not be drawn when asked what he thought about Mr Windsor helping his party.
''Tony Windor was someone who was faced with a difficult decision – he had to decide on Julia Gillard, he had to decide on Tony Abbott. I couldn't make that decision, it would be a dead heat for me,'' he said.
Mr Palmer has previously dismissed suggestions that he may not be able to use the United Australia Party name, arguing he owns the trademark.
But it is understood he has raised concerns with Mr Windsor that the Uniting Australia Party may be a stalking horse.
''About eight months ago Mr Palmer had the United Australia Party trademarked and announced his intentions in the media. Less than two months ago, the 'Uniting' Australia Party sprang into existence and was the first to lodge its application for registration [thereby] possibly blocking Mr Palmer's party as the names are too similar,'' Mr Windsor said on Thursday. ''I just smell a rat here and my rat smelling capacity is not bad.''
Mr Windsor, who met Mr Palmer for the first time last week, said he was concerned about the democratic process and the major parties' desire to keep ''other players out of the game''.
''[Mr Palmer] has a right to stand,'' Mr Windsor said. ''He's got as much right as I have.'' The independent member for New England said that if there was ''substantive'' evidence that one of the major parties was trying to hinder Mr Palmer, he would look at ways of helping him.
This could include Mr Windsor applying to register the United Australia Party himself as a ''parliamentary party'' as opposed a ''political party''. Parliamentary parties can register with just one sitting member of parliament, while political parties require at least 500 members. At this stage, Mr Windsor has had conflicting advice as to whether this approach would work.
If he did register the party, it is understood he would then resign his membership. While Mr Windsor has been approached about joining the United Australian Party, he has declined and says he will remain an independent.
On Thursday, Uniting Australia Party secretary John Smith strongly rejected the conspiracy claims as ''rubbish''.
Mr Smith – a semi-retired electrical engineer from Queensland – said he formed the party in March 2012 and that he had been thinking about the idea for a year before that.
''I felt that both Labor and the Liberal Party were taking the country in the wrong direction,'' he said. ''I just got sick of complaining.''
He rejected the suggestion that his party was associated with another major party.
''I'm not affiliated with any party at all,'' he said, adding that he had never been a member of another political party.
He said that most of the party's 700 members had similarly never been members of other parties.
Mr Smith said the party had policies around stopping the selling of Australian agricultural land to foreign buyers, increasing the age pension and stopping the ''lifelong perks'' to former prime ministers and MPs.
Mr Smith said he expected the party's registration application to be completed within two to three weeks, adding that the party's name had already been passed by the AEC.
He said about 70 per cent of his party's membership was from Queensland with the rest coming from NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Members ranged in age from 18 to 90.
The party is hoping to run six candidates in Queensland, at least one in the Northern Territory and some in NSW and Victoria.
On Friday, while in Mr Windsor's electorate with Coalition candidate Barnaby Joyce, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he was not aware of any attempts to stop Mr Palmer from registering his party.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Tamworth that anyone was entitled to run for election and to start a political party, but said that the only way to ''change the government'' was to vote for the Coalition.
Senator Joyce, who is challenging Mr Windsor for his seat, had this message for his opponent: ''Please do not put the people of New England on the Titanic. Even if it's only just for a couple of weeks.''