Federal MP Clive Palmer has failed to make an appearance at his party’s Queensland election campaign launch.
Several hundred people gathered at Mr Palmer’s Sunshine Coast resort on Sunday, where the launch of major Palmer United Party (PUP) policies was left to Senators Glenn Lazarus and Dio Wang and state leader John Bjelke-Petersen.
“Flu bugs do not discriminate, and unfortunately Clive has come down with a fairly nasty one,” Mr Lazarus said.
The party unveiled plans to abolish Queensland’s 4.75 per cent payroll tax as a major economic platform.
The move would recreate the boom years of the former Bjelke-Petersen government and has been likened to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s decision to cut death duties in 1977 by his son John.
“If you want to regenerate the country or the state, you’ve got to do something dramatic,” said Mr Bjelke-Petersen, who was introduced at the launch to the strains of Eye of the Tiger.
“That was what generated the income and the income streams for our state back in my father’s time and got this state going,” he said.
“That’s when the Gold Coast took off and all the other places.”
In a wide-ranging media conference Mr Bjelke-Petersen spoke passionately about the plight of Queensland’s regional communities, taking aim at Australia’s big banks and the coal seam gas (CSG) industry.
Financial institutions were foreclosing on properties as farmers faced the most devastating drought in decades, he said.
“It does not matter how good a farmer you are. You could be the best farmer in the world but no one will get through a drought like they’ve been through out there,” he said.
The CSG industry was placing the state’s water supply at risk, Mr Bjelke-Petersen said.
“If we stuff up with CSG, as far as our underground water is concerned, if we contaminate that, we are going to consign Queensland on the western side of the great dividing range … to a bleak future,” he said.
“We need to ensure that we look after those communities and ensure that the best practise is being used as far as CSG is concerned.”
The identities of many of PUP’s 50 candidates and accusations of nepotism forced the party’s former state leader, Dr Alex Douglas, to resign in disgust in 2014.
They include Mr Palmer’s nephews Blair and Martin Brewster and Clive Mensink, brother in law George Sokolov and former employee Scott Higgins.
Many candidates also have close business ties to Mr Palmer, but Mr Bjelke-Petersen said it was a side issue.
“The people who are standing in our party are people who are down to earth people, who have had a job and have actually done something – they’re not professional politicians who have worked their way through the ranks of the party,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, they’re people from different occupations. We are a party of the people.”