Joe Hockey, soon to be the treasurer in the Abbott government, complained six months ago of an entitlement culture in Australian and western politics. Entitlement, he said, was ''a concept that corrodes the very heart of the process that drives our economies''.
He and his colleagues are about to confront it head-on, if not quite in the way that he was describing it to a big-business think tank in London. A new government is in town, and its arrival has brought out - as new governments always do - a crowd of urgers, sponsors, backers, spivs and others with their hands out. Some will be be claiming they are owed it for favours past; others will be implying that they, being members of the winners club, are entitled to an array of free passes. Some will suggest darkly that the reason they so enthusiastically supported the party was not for the pro-business environment it promised to create, but the pro-my-business decisions they expect.
As usual, the situation will be (to Hockey and his colleagues) the more embarrassing because a good number of the representatives, and brokers, of these people claiming to be ''entitled'' or ''owed'' will be colleagues, friends and people wielding power with the party - sometimes also in the very factions with which they are associated. To the public, as usual, the spectacle will be the more disgusting for the complete want of shame by which the urgers, brokers, prostitutes and spivs manipulate their associations in search of cash, jobs, status or discretions for themselves or their clients, even as they continue to receive very generous Commonwealth pensions for past servicing of the public. It will also acquire, in some cynical minds, an appearance of dishonesty and corruption because many of the lobbyists, consultants, advocates and other harlots will boast loudly to anyone, even the press, about their special influence on and access to this government of their old mates and cronies.
It's always like this. It's like this with Labor. It's like this with the Nationals. It's like this with the Liberals. And sometimes it seems that there is hardly a politician - perhaps John Howard the best modern exception - who has not, after politics, set out to make a buck in commerce from his, or her, supposed experience, intelligence and contacts in politics.
This is not, necessarily, to suggest that the incoming governments upon which such leeches, spongers and other bottom feeders fasten themselves are especially susceptible to the requests for special favours. In my experience, most governments, and most ministers, are reasonably honest, in intention as much as in deed, and most, in any event, have enough sense of survival to understand the need, these days, for a documentary trail, both within the private office and in the public administration, showing not only the process by which decisions were made but also recording the names of the various friends and relations who were in the hat. I do not doubt that Abbott, Hockey and others, mean it to be just as contestable and honest as ever. They will probably be, as ever, far too careless about the impressions and appearances, but will be, as ever, aggrieved if anyone makes deductions about the realities.
But this year, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott have two problems of a sort that have rarely confronted new governments. They are related. One is Clive Palmer. The other is the ragbag of minor-party senators, including Palmerites, who look likely to hold the balance of power in the Senate.
Palmer is, and will remain, a big businessman. Not a few people who operate in business wonder whether he is, in his business or other activities, everything he pretends to be, but, for the moment, that is neither here nor there: Palmer has an array of business interests, conducted very personally, mainly through private companies, from whom it will be almost impossible to separate
himself in any sort of ''blind trust'' manner now he is in politics. There has been no talk of divestment, and, so far as parliamentary disclosure procedures (they are rules, not laws) are concerned, the assumption is that he will simply make disclosure of his interests, which might itself be interesting.
Palmer has long been involved in party politics, particularly in the old Queensland National Party, and party fund-raising. He was a foundation white shoe brigader, and was close to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and a fan of his style. In recent times he had, famously, a major falling out with the new Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, and other Liberals associated with the new LNP government which led to his forming his party.
The disagreement had a number of aspects - including over the influence of rival lobbyists, and the access of open lobbyists to Newman's ear. But it primarily concerned Palmer's anger and disappointment that a decision about the siting of a railway and port access did not favour his mining interests, but someone else's. This deeply offended Palmer's sense of entitlement.
As a businessman, Palmer is entitled to promote his personal interests in any legal way possible. But his personal interests are not the public's interests or in the public interest, but it is by no means clear that Palmer knows the difference. He would hardly be the first businessman in this position, but only a few businessmen, or women, get into positions in Parliament where it becomes a serious problem.
The problem is the greater because the party that Palmer founded is essentially, or is intended to be, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Palmer enterprises. Most of his candidates at the election were employees, and Palmer made no effort to pretend that the party had any sort of democratic structure, or that its elected representatives (of whom he expected there would be many) would have a free hand.
With up to two Palmer Party senators elected, no legislation will pass the Senate from July 1 next year if Labor and the Greens are opposed, unless at least one of the Palmer Party people supports it. Abbott campaigned promising he would not make deals with independents or minor parties (by which he meant the Greens). If the Senate centre and left is against Abbott's proposals, the Abbott government needs the vote of all but one of the micro party senators, all of whom are in the Senate as a result of Palmer preferences. That is not to make them creatures of the Palmer will, but may well reinforce an inclination to not want to force a double dissolution, which would almost certainly throw each one out of a $200,000-a-year sinecure for six years.
The history of undemocratically organised minor parties is that they fragment fairly quickly, not least over the amount of control the ''charismatic'' leader can exercise. Pauline Hanson might provide the role model. Already, the likely Tasmanian Palmerite, Jacquie Lambie is showing signs of independence.
For Abbott the problem of his dealings with Palmer or other new senators will be as much about appearances as realities. Practical politics means that he must deal with them, and that he must make with them deals which allow them concessions towards their legitimate policy aims as well as serving Coalition interests. As the movie Lincoln shows, one must make one's bargains where one can.
Politicians who can use their position to get concessions beyond their station are usually much admired. Whatever anyone thought of Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott or Andrew Wilkie in the last government, there were few who would deny that they obtained extraordinary benefits for their electorates, perhaps even for regional Australia. Wilkie got Hobart a new hospital ahead of its place in the queue. Before them, Senator Brian Harradine obtained extraordinary benefits for his state, obtained in part by levering his opposition to birth control programs and some types of socially progressive legislation. For some frustrated politicians, Harradine was a classic politician on the make. For others, there was an amazing consistency of principle and capacity to judge how far his sincere personal beliefs could be pushed.
Palmer has an array of personal views - many of which, for example on immigration and boat people, are socially progressive - and is no doubt sincere, in his own way, in wanting to get involved in bettering the affairs of the nation. He can be expected to be generally sympathetic with the broad philosophy of the Abbott government, even if he has a deep animus against some Liberals, and a history of supporting government by cronyism rather than of free markets. He does not support the Abbott paid parental leave scheme.
Heaven knows what the micro party senators think on these topics. Or what concessions will have to be made, nine months from now, to keep them generally on side.
But Abbott and his senior ministers must surely know that there will be very close scrutiny of all the government's dealings with such people. Including, but especially with Palmer, who will in any event be a loud and noisy figure in the House of Representatives. A loud and noisy figure often guilty of casting ''nasturtiums'' - justified or otherwise - and bound to be a trial for Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.
The government would be very wise to decide that open and transparent - proactive of the spirit of freedom of information - ought to be the model, all of the time, and particularly if there is anything involved capable of affecting Palmer's interests, or his troubled relationships with figures in Queensland politics. This should almost certainly include the recording of conversations, some care about discussions without independent witnesses, particularly from the public service, and scrupulous avoidance of what Abbott, or Hockey, or Robb or any number of other Catholic ministers understand as ''occasions of sin'' - places where the risk of being compromised is great.
This is something they should judge to be necessary not only because Palmer, and some of the new senators, have obvious baggage and complicated ideas. It is necessary because Palmer has a history of fallings-out and displaying dirty laundry. Palmer will not, after all, be in the government. If ministers are thought to do, or anticipate, his bidding - or, worse, if they not do or anticipate it - it will not be his fault as such. It will be Abbott's. Experience has shown that when Palmer is out for revenge, he does not hold back, least of all to avoid embarrassment or shame to himself.
When Kevin Rudd came in six years ago it was with a tiny ragbag of reforming zeal over matters such as the registration of lobbyists, codes of conduct for dealings with them, and expanded FOI laws. These all happened, in a fairly weak way, and Abbott will no doubt incorporate them in his standards, instructions to, and supervision of, ministers. But he would be well advised to go beyond that - if only because his party, at state level, is being progressively corrupted and disabled by its open embrace of lobbyists and the crony capitalistic model they represent. Sooner or later, probably sooner, it will bring them all down.