After Plans to Build Titanic II, Australian Billionaire Forms a New Political Party

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SYDNEY, Australia -- An Australian billionaire who is perhaps best known for his efforts to build a seaworthy replica of the Titanic says he will use his vast fortune to form a new political party to compete in federal elections scheduled for September.

The tycoon, Clive Palmer, had been a major financial supporter of the conservative Liberal-National Party, from which he resigned last year amid quarrels about his political aspirations. Mr. Palmer says his newly minted United Australia Party, which he announced at a news conference on Friday, will be a serious challenger rather than a vanity project.

"I'm running to be the prime minister of Australia," Mr. Palmer told reporters. "I am standing because I think I can offer better service to the community than anyone else."

Mr. Palmer is a major player in Australia's natural resource-driven economy. He owns considerable mining assets as well as a nickel refinery that he bought from the mining giant BHP Billiton and large coal and iron ore deposits in the states of Queensland and Western Australia.

He made international headlines this year when he unveiled his plans for Titanic II, a $200-million replica of the doomed ocean liner that will be equipped with high-tech engines and modern amenities like air-conditioning. Mr. Palmer says that the ship, which will be built by China's state-owned CSC Jinling Shipyard, could make its maiden voyage as early as 2016.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the first woman to serve in that post in Australia, has seen her ratings plummet since January, when she announced that federal elections would be held in September. The unusually early announcement kicked off an election season that has been bruising and marked by infighting in Ms. Gillard's Labor Party, and it remains to be seen what impact Mr. Palmer's announcement will have on the race.

Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal-National coalition, is widely expected to become the next prime minister, but Mr. Palmer's deep pockets and conservative stance on issues like climate change and taxes could steal crucial votes from Mr. Abbott, especially in Mr. Palmer's home state, Queensland.

The deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, urged conservatives not to jeopardize the coalition's chances by splintering the vote.

"If you want to get rid of the Labor government, if you want to get rid of the waste and incompetence and inability to stop the boats, then you have to vote for the coalition," she said in an interview with Sky News, referring to the rickety boats used by asylum seekers making the perilous crossing from Indonesia to the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

"It's got to be a vote for the Liberal Party and the National Party," Ms. Bishop said, "That's how you get rid of this government."

The Labor Party, however, seemed to welcome the announcement, which has the potential to at least partly reverse its flagging fortunes.

"I think pretty clearly anyone who votes for a Clive Palmer-led party wasn't a former Labor supporter, they'll be a former L.N.P. supporter," Anthony Albanese, the infrastructure and transportation minister, told the newspaper The Australian.

"That's his niche market," Mr. Albanese said. "If the far-right want to fight with the not-so-far-right in Queensland, then good luck to them."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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