Looking at the controversial issue from the Prime Minister’s perspective, it’s easy to see why doing a preference deal with Clive Palmer is so attractive to Scott Morrison.
Disgruntled voters are deserting the major parties in droves, making the parties of government heavily dependent on the preferences of minor parties that attract and then redirect the protest vote back to the majors.
If Mr Morrison is ultimately successful in dragging the Coalition back from the brink of electoral defeat, he will have only been able to do so because of preferences from Mr Palmer’s United Australia Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
But considered from the public interest perspective, there are three monumental reasons why the PM should not make a preference deal with the UAP leader.
Firstly, Mr Palmer has shown little or no interest in the wellbeing of the people left jobless when his Queensland Nickel refinery collapsed three years ago.
Legal action is now under way to get Mr Palmer to reimburse the $67 million of taxpayer funds the Coalition government spent to meet the outstanding entitlements of stranded refinery workers with 10 years’ service or more.
In recent days, the born-again politician – who has reportedly spent $50 million so far on his re-election campaign – promised to pay the remaining $7 million owed to former Queensland Nickel workers, but not until after polling day.
This curious proviso suggests Mr Palmer is using the shafted workers as pawns in a political game, which should be more than enough to disqualify him as a credible collaborator for the Prime Minister.
Yet in addition to his callous disregard for voters, Mr Palmer is also facing criminal charges laid by the business regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, over an alleged illegal takeover attempt at one of his operations.
The court case will start later this year and could see a newly elected Mr Palmer removed from Parliament if the maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment was imposed.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Mr Morrison should have avoided doing political deals with Mr Palmer because the businessman is a walking, talking conflict of interest.
All senators and members of Parliament are required to disclose their financial interests in a publicly available register so that voters can see if a parliamentarian has a perceived or real conflict of interest with their public duty.
In Mr Palmer’s case, it can be difficult to see where he doesn’t have a conflict.
When he first entered federal Parliament in 2013, Mr Palmer’s statement of interests included 106 companies, 85 directorships, a vast portfolio of shares and eight trusts.
He rejected the idea of divesting any of these interests, reportedly arguing that it was impossible to have a conflict of interest if you are already so rich you have everything you need.
Such a claim would have more weight if the person who uttered it wasn’t waiting on federal (and state) government approvals to develop a huge coal mine in central Queensland, which could produce 33 per cent more coal than the Adani Carmichael mine.
According to the ABC, the viability of Mr Palmer’s coal mine depends on the Adani operation going ahead, or another mine in the Galilee Basin with a rail link to the coast.
Any one of these three potentially explosive factors should have been enough to warn off Mr Morrison from doing preference deals with Mr Palmer.
By ignoring the warning and sealing the preference pact, the PM has instead set himself up to look complicit if there is any future softening of the financial or legal actions being taken against the UAP leader, or if Mr Palmer’s coal mining operation gets the go ahead.
This is why the name Faustus gained currency on social media last week, not long after news of the Morrison-Palmer pact emerged.