Billionaire-turned-politician Clive Palmer is using campaign material for his Palmer United Party to advertise his private, multi-million dollar Titanic II venture.
Billionaire-turned-politician Clive Palmer is using campaign material for the Palmer United Party to advertise his private, multi-million dollar Titanic II venture.
In a campaign DVD mailed to voters, a video promoting the Titanic II cruise ship appears as a 'bonus' feature alongside the party's How To Vote instructions and slogan "We're Fair Dinkum".
Questioned by SBS during a Fairfax web forum, Mr Palmer admitted the video has no relation to the party's policies.
"The party had to do a deal with Titanic II to get the funds to be able to get their ideas out to Australia."
"It doesn't fit into our policy platform," said Mr Palmer, "but the party had to do a deal with Titanic II to get the funds to be able to get their ideas out to Australia."
Clive Palmer announced plans to recreate the 1912 cruise ship, to be built by his shipping company Blue Star Line, earlier this year.
The project is pitched to cost the company well over $200 million.
According to a party spokesperson the Palmer United Party flyers were personally approved by Mr Palmer.
The flyers were also printed and packaged in China, where the Titanic II ship is currently being built, by Mr Palmer's mining company Queensland Nickel.
Mr Palmer said the appearance of a video for his Titanic II project within his party's campaign material was simply in response to the public's interest in the venture.
"It's a freebie. It's a free handout on Titanic II because there's so much interest in it," he said. "It was a good opportunity to let the Australian people see what the project was about."
More than six million Palmer United Party flyers featuring the Titanic II ad are currently being distributed to households around Australia, with voters in the Queensland town of Lilley among the first to have received the DVD last week.
Some Australian legal experts and Twitter users have slammed the ads as a conflict of interest.
Associate Professor at Melbourne University Law School, Joo-Cheong Tham, says the ads raise serious alarm bells around political ethics.
“Including an ad like this, which is clearly about the commercial interests of Mr Palmer, into material where he is running for public office or the party is running for public office, I think at the very least raises a perception that there’s a failure to fully understand the conflict of interest that can arise between his private interest and his public duty,” says Professor Tham.
“When candidates run for public office they’re basically running on the basis that they will act in the public interest. And if they’re running on the basis that they will act in the public interest and they hold office in the public interest, I think what follows from that is that they should very diligently and assiduously separate out their private interests from the public interests.”
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, there are currently no rules that prohibit a candidate from distributing personal advertising as part of their election campaign material.
“The purpose of the electoral act and the provisions that are in the electoral act are primarily aimed at making sure that people are able to identify the source of the electoral advertising,” says the AEC's Chief Legal Officer, Paul Pirani.
"So no, there is nothing that would prevent any candidate or member of Parliament from putting out advertising that linked-in to their private business ventures."
"At least with someone like me you know exactly what I'm thinking about."
Despite authorising the Titanic II video, Mr Palmer told the Fairfax web forum: "I'm not running as a businessman, I'm running as an Australian citizen."
Mr Palmer said he also believes in free speech, allowing voters to understand where he truly stands.
"I think freedom of speech is the most important thing in our democracy because it enables people to know what we stand for to make proper judgements," he said.
"We've got politicians... that don't believe in presenting exactly who they are to the people, they all sort of hide in little corridors and have focus groups and have notes and decide what they're gonna say and you wonder what they're really thinking."
"At least with someone like me you know exactly what I'm thinking about," said Mr Palmer.