ANALYSIS

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Palmer's throwdown to Joe Hockey

In an address to the National Press Club, Clive Palmer says he and his Senators cannot support measures that 'destroy our way of life'.

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The impact of the arrival on the national stage of Clive Palmer and his eponymous band of first-time legislators is only now becoming clear, fully ten months on from the election.

And as the picture clarifies, we are getting the first real sense of a truly chaotic picture. ''What have we done?'' voters may well ask.

<i>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox</i>

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

Surely the single biggest aim of the election was to sweep away the uncertainty of the Gillard/Rudd years. To expunge forever from the collective mind the horror of the hung Parliament where grandstanding independents armed with a fraction of the vote held all to ransom?

Nobody thought much about the Senate though.

Of the 12 senators starting terms on July 1, four of them are in Mr Palmer's now pivotal voting bloc.

And because it is a bloc, it is central to anything the Coalition wants to do that is opposed by Labor and the Greens.

That spells trouble for a government that has so far proved itself mystifyingly inept at the art of persuasion, whether that be persuading voters or, more pointedly, persuading crossbench senators.

But then, persuading people with whom you have no long-term relationship and behind whom there is no established body of policy or parliamentary voting record can be a tricky assignment. Especially if the ground keeps moving.

When he addressed the National Press Club on Monday, Palmer's ''flexibility'' was face-slappingly apparent.

Without the slightest hint of the reversal it actually was, he announced his party would now back the government's Direct Action alternative as long as it agreed to keep Labor's emissions trading scheme on the books. Both are measures to which Palmer has been implacably opposed in the past.

Just last week, Direct Action was a pointless ''waste of money''. Now it has his party's support, subject to the retention of a policy (in name only) to which he was also opposed.

Similarly, the mining tax repeal will be supported, but not the generous handouts to families foolishly funded by the revenue stream that never materialised.

Voters may be bemused, but the government remains more circumspect, caught between its private assessment of such untethered fluidity, and the absolute reliance on the PUP bloc to pass legislation.

It is an accepted fact in politics that disorder, unpredictability and unruliness always play badly for governments. If so, day one of the new Senate was a bad start.

Commitments to support votes were welshed on immediately. Huge holes were blown in an already stymied budget.

And the Treasurer Joe Hockey was branded a liar for claiming a budget emergency.

It is beginning to feel just a bit like a hung Parliament. Again.

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