Clive Palmer’s inquiry into Queensland’s government can’t compel state politicians or public servants to give evidence, but it will distract voters.
Clive Palmer’s inquiry into Queensland’s government may not find anything, but it’s an unwanted distraction in the lead-up to the state election.
It seems like aeons ago that a jolly Mr Palmer was dancing euphorically on the grave of the former Labor state government and saying incoming Liberal-National Premier Campbell Newman was “the most successful political leader in the nation’s history”.
But less than three years later the federal MP’s Palmer United Party (PUP) has teamed up with Labor and the Australian Greens in Canberra to launch a Senate inquiry into Mr Newman’s government.
The inquiry committee, chaired by PUP Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus, will also be made up of one Green, one coalition and two Labor senators.
It will investigate the current government’s use of federal funds, administration of the judiciary and environmental approvals.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney claims it’s revenge by Mr Palmer – a former life member and major donor of the Liberal National Party – because the state government denied his requests for special favours.
“I don’t think anyone pretends it is going to serve any purpose,” Mr Seeney told reporters.
Mr Palmer denies the aim is to hurt the electoral fortunes of the party to which he once gave so much money before a spectacular falling out.
“Is it a witch hunt? No, it’s not,” Mr Palmer told AAP.
“It’s just a venue where people have the opportunity to voice their concerns. If Newman has nothing to hide then he shouldn’t be concerned.”
The inquiry can’t legally compel state politicians or public servants to give evidence, so technically Queensland’s government doesn’t have to co-operate.
Federal Attorney-General George Brandis said he’d spoken to Mr Newman about “a very robust response” to the inquiry.
“In the view of many … it is unlawful and in breach of the Melbourne principle – that one element of government in a federation does not interfere with another element of government in a federation,” he told the National Press Club.
“The Senate … may purport to summon a member of another parliament or a public servant employed by another government.
“But applying the principles to which I just referred, the respondent to that summons would, in my view, be on good ground in declining to attend, and that’s happened before.”
The six-month inquiry is due to report back on or before March 27, meaning the inquiry could run alongside the LNP’s campaign for re-election.
Experts are divided over which party they think the investigation will benefit more at the ballot box.
Queensland University of Technology’s Prof Mark Lauchs said the LNP could benefit.
“If I were the Libs I’d just let it run,” he told AAP.
“If the committee finds nothing, it will work against them and all the parties involved.”
But Griffith University’s Dr Paul Williams told AAP the only winner would be Labor and Palmer.
“Even if it’s a Clayton’s inquiry where it doesn’t really uncover anything, the fact that it keeps percolating on the nightly news will be a distraction as the government winds up the hard end of the election campaign,” he said.