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Clive Palmer and the politics of pot shots

Mining billionaire Clive Palmer.

Mining billionaire Clive Palmer.

If Wayne Swan was feeling stressed about how next week's budget will go down, he has suddenly been put under pressure on a whole new front. Mining magnate Clive Palmer's announcement that he will seek Liberal National party preselection to run against Swan is the equivalent of the loaded gun at the Treasurer's head.

We can take Swanny's tweet that he is ''over the moon at the prospect of the contest'' as a touch of cracking hardy. Swan's seat of Lilley is on 3.2 per cent. Even before the Queensland election it was dicey; now it is potentially diabolical for the ALP.

It is important to remember that Palmer is not talking about contesting as an independent, where he would have less chance of victory. If he got LNP preselection, he would have all the weight of the federal opposition and the Queensland party behind him.

Presuming the LNP embraced him, for Tony Abbott there could be a serious downside in having Palmer as a candidate, let alone in the team in Canberra. One can't see it being easy for the Liberal disciplinarians to rein in his shoot-from-the-lip tendencies during a campaign. And how would he be handled if he arrived in the national capital?

But will Palmer really go ahead with the plan? We are still waiting for his High Court challenge to the carbon tax to materialise. Then there was the crazy CIA conspiracy theory which he threw out as a diversion in the Queensland campaign. And Palmer knows if he actually ended up in Parliament it would dramatically restrict his business life.

When it comes to Palmer, one can't write off the wicked tease, just to try to do Swan's head in.

Palmer's targeting Swan is the ultimate tit-for-tat politics. Palmer was one of those in Swan's sights in his notable Monthly article, where he accused leading mining magnates of using their money and influence against the national interest, which poisoned our politics. He hasn't let up on Palmer ever since. Now Palmer has taken very directly to the political  process to strike back.

Looked at one way, however, if it happened, a successful Palmer challenge might be a blessing in disguise for Swan. The Treasurer has said he will contest the election - but would he really want to be sitting on the opposition benches if the poll ended in disaster for Labor?

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