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Aussie tycoon tips balance of power

Clive Palmer seizes control of Senate with new alliance

AFP-JIJI

Flamboyant mining tycoon Clive Palmer brokered a crucial alliance Thursday giving him the balance of power in Australia’s new parliament, warning of a “very cold winter” if the government tries to cross him.

Palmer, famous for building a full-scale replica of the Titanic and a robotic dinosaur park in northern Australia, said he had joined forces with the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (AMEP) to form a bloc that will be key to passing legislation through the upper house.

“We’re one team of people working together because we’ve got common policies,” Palmer told reporters in Sydney.

The colorful resources billionaire’s self-titled Palmer United Party won three Senate seats in the Sept. 7 elections, and he is still in the running himself for a lower house seat, with a recount under way after the initial tally was too close to call.

Already wielding considerable clout in the new Senate, Palmer cemented his leverage by inking a deal with AMEP Sen.-elect Ricky Muir, a fringe candidate who found his way into parliament through a series of complex vote-swapping deals despite securing just 0.5 percent of the primary vote.

Together, Muir and Palmer’s three senators will have the deciding vote on proposed laws, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government needing to secure at least six minority party votes — including at least two of their four — to pass legislation.

The new Senate will take effect from July next year.

Palmer sounded a warning to Abbott’s chief in the Senate, Eric Abetz, who he taunted with the nickname “Erica.”

“If Erica says he wants to negotiate individually with people, well, he’ll have to negotiate with our team or he won’t be negotiating at all. It’ll be a very, very, very, very cold winter,” he said.

Abbott countered with a caution of his own.

“I’m confident that everyone in this parliament very well understands that the new government has a clear mandate to get certain things done,” he said from Brunei, where he is attending the East Asia Summit.

“And I’m confident that minor parties in the Senate understand that and will support that.”

Abbott promised to work “as constructively as I can with everyone in the parliament” and said he would “treat all members of parliament with courtesy and respect, including minor party and independent members of parliament.”

Muir’s AMEP policies include “the average Australian family’s right to modify and restore vehicles based on their own freedom of expression” and advocate “four-wheel driving, camping, fishing and other recreational pursuits.”

Palmer said his party “certainly support the Motorists’ party and their aspirations for motorists in Australia,” while Muir backed the Palmer United Party’s economic and other policies.

Scott Ludlam, senator for the left-wing Greens party, may prove a spanner in the works after Thursday winning the right to a recount that could see him take one of Palmer’s upper house seats.

Ludlam said the Palmer United Party would be “significant in the short term” but questioned Palmer’s motives.

“Is this a plaything for a rather erratic and eccentric coal billionaire, or is it going to be a serious political player? I guess I have got my doubts,” Ludlam said.

Celebrating his victory on election night, Palmer said he was standing for public office “because I can serve the Australian people and provide more ideas on where this nation should go.”

The outspoken mining baron has threatened to sue Rupert Murdoch over unflattering allegations in his Australian newspapers, and claims the media mogul’s estranged wife, Wendi Deng, is a Chinese spy.