For most of his life, Penrith small businessman Andrew Wilcox was a staunch Liberal Party voter. He even joined his local branch. Then Clive Palmer came along.
Wilcox admired Palmer for rising from obscurity to enormous wealth, and welcomed his avowed support for small business and ordinary Australians. So he took a month off work to stand as the Palmer United Party (PUP) candidate for Lindsay, a marginal seat in Sydney’s western suburbs, at the 2013 federal election.
It’s a decision the franchisee consultant and foster parent now regrets. Bitterly.
So, he says, do other Palmer United candidates who feel they were treated like a “one night stand” by the mining millionaire.
“We were being sold – and I hate to use the word – a pup,” he said.
Seven months after the election, Wilcox’s frustrations with Palmer have erupted because of $2475 owed to Hawkesbury sign writer Peter Fishlock.
Fishlock printed 200 signs for Wilcox’s campaign but was never paid because of a dispute between Wilcox and the PUP over who should foot the bill. PUP candidates were told last June the party would cover the cost for 200 corflutes, but according to the PUP, a letter was sent out two months later saying only 10 would be covered. Wilcox insists he never received such a letter.
Regardless, he says Palmer, whose wealth was valued at $630 million by Forbes in January, should have paid.
“He’d spend more money on a flight to Canberra in his private jet than paying this poor bugger.”
Peter Fishlock is not alone. Palmer has also been in a row with his lead NSW Senate candidate, former rugby league star Matt Adamson, over who should pay $5300 owed to the Taree-Wingham Race Club for a pre-election fund-raiser.
Last Friday, Palmer dismissed the claims as “bullshit”.
“There’s nobody owed any money by me or given me a bill that hasn’t been paid,” he told Fairfax radio’s 2UE. Then he hung up.
Peter Fishlock finally got his money on Wednesday when the 2UE breakfast program, hosted by John Stanley and Garry Linnell, announced it would pay the invoice.
With hindsight, Andrew Wilcox says there was something fishy about the PUP from the start.
“They didn’t do much due diligence on the candidates – basically whoever put their hand up was given the nomination.
“I filled out a form on the website, they rang up and said: ‘You’ve been endorsed’.”
Palmer, who says he cannot remember meeting Wilcox, replies: "Our vetting processes obviously weren't good enough because he got in."
Wilcox has a warning for anyone considering running for the party in future lower house elections.
"I never heard from him from two weeks before the election and I have never heard from him since.
“We were just cannon fodder for him to get his Senate seats. We were hoodwinked. He should be exposed for what he’s really like.”
On the prospect of Palmer holding the balance of power in the Senate from July, Wilcox has three words: “God help us.”
All up, he's more sorrowful than angry. The whole experience feels like a bad dream. “I just want to get on with my life."