SKETCH

New door opens: Clive Palmer arrives for the opening of Parliament.

New door opens: Clive Palmer arrives for the opening of Parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares

Parliament or performance art? We Australians place great faith in our democracy, but if we examine our consciences, we can all admit we harboured a small suspicion Clive Palmer's election to the House of Representatives was actually an elaborate thought experiment designed to test our notions of democracy, and the patience of the Australian Electoral Commission.

Then Clive listed to one side, in a worrying echo of the Titanic replica he has pledged to build.  

Just like the tree in the forest, if the Palmernator hadn't yet been seen in the chamber, could he really be an MP? Well, on Tuesday he turned up. In an entirely real and non-conceptual way, the new Member for Fairfax eased his Cliveish buttocks on to the green-leathered cross-bench, next to the new Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan. They made an odd couple: she, a grassroots independent and Canberra outsider who won her seat through people power; he, the Queensland eccentric and LNP apostate with dominion over a billion-dollar fortune and a dinosaur fleet.

The Palmernator stayed upright for a few minutes as he watched the swearing-in of MPs, a tedious process broken up only by the realisation politicians' parents are as cruel as everyone else's when it comes to the selection of middle names.

Then Clive listed to one side, in a worrying echo of the Titanic replica he has pledged to build. His attention seemed to wander - was he contemplating his imminent speech at the National Press Club, or was it dawning on him how awfully boring parliament can be?

The speech spared him from having to linger too long - he was whisked from the chamber to the Press Club, where he gave a quixotic oration. Catering to his audience of scribes, he opened with an anecdote about Karl Marx's career as a journalist. (Later, the internet revealed this part of his speech to be remarkably similar to one given by JFK in 1961, but one man's plagiarism is another man's homage.)

We saw the many faces of Clive. There was Clive the Prideful: ''Tony Abbott only became the Prime Minister … because the Coalition received the preferences of the Palmer United Party.'' Clive the Humble: ''Of course, it's not about me.'' And lastly Clive, Piercer of the Corporate Veil: ''It's not me complying with anything. Companies I own are not me,'' he said delphically when asked whether he would divest his business interests now he was in politics.

Meanwhile, back on Capital Hill, Bronwyn Bishop was being elected to the Speaker's chair. It is a brave man who man-handles La Bish, even in jest, but tradition dictates the Speaker-elect is ''dragged'' into the chair by two fellow MPs. Abbott and Leader of the House Christopher Pyne claimed the task. Something in their gleeful expressions said they had baggsed it in Monday's party-room meeting.

Ms Bishop will, unlike her predecessor Anna Burke, be referred to as Madam. Welcome to the 44th parliament.

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