One thing you can say about Peter Reith is that he knows a danger when he sees one. And the danger currently in the sights of the former Liberal ministerial hard man is independent MP Clive Palmer.
Reith has used his Fairfax column this morning to attack Palmer and his party in a way that is becoming more common for Liberals. It appears to have dawned on supporter of the coalition government that the Palmer United Party has the potential to be as disruptive to them as the Greens have become to Labor.
Partially decide they will at state elections in Tasmania and South Australia this weekend with the bigger test to come with the West Australian Senate election next month.
The Liberal concern in Tasmania is well illustrated by the complaint lodged by the party’s state secretary Sam McQuestin over this advertisement published in The Mercury yesterday:
The alleged crime is the presence in the ad of those “three amigos” photographs. Under Tasmanian electoral law it is illegal to print any advertisement with a photo of a candidate without their written consent. The leaders pictured say they have not consented.
Hardly a hanging matter I would have thought but enough to have the Liberals pointing to the potential 12 months jail sentence that would rule the Palmer United Party’s Senator-Elect Jacqui Lambie, who the advertisement says authorised it, ineligible to take her seat in the Senate from 1 July. And what a pyrrhic victory for Tony Abbott’s team that would be with Ms Lambie replaced by another Senator chosen by PUP and Clive Palmer given yet another reason to be as difficult to deal with as possible.
A silly and childish game that Labor is joining in with by referring to the electoral commissioner a letter Clive Palmer has distributed to Tasmanian households in which, Labor says, he appears to have named both the Premier Lara Giddings and Opposition Leader Will Hodgman. That, according to ALP state president John Dowling, could potentially be a breach of section 196 of the Tasmanian Electoral Act making the federal MP also liable for a 12 month term in jail. Hard not to be on the Palmer side in arguing, as he did this morning saying that ”as a member of the House of Representatives from Queensland I don’t feel I am restrained in naming any person in Australia, referring to them in relation to a public debate that’s going on in the country. And I don’t think there is any law that seeks to stop that freedom of speech.”
If there is such a law there shouldn’t be and the most likely result of this petty point scoring is to give PUP the attention needed to do better on Saturday than the opinion polls are currently showing.