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Billionaire Tycoon Challenges Treasurer Swan at Election

Clive Palmer, chairman of Mineralogy Pty. Photographer: Patrick Hamilton/Bloomberg
Clive Palmer, chairman of Mineralogy Pty. Photographer: Patrick Hamilton/Bloomberg

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire resource tycoon Clive Palmer said he plans to unseat Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan at the next election as the battle between the nation’s fifth-richest person and No. 2 government official intensifies.

Palmer, whose wealth was estimated at A$5.05 billion ($5.3 billion) by BRW magazine last year, said he will seek to become the Liberal National Party candidate for the federal seat of Lilley in Queensland state, held by Swan since 1998.

“The people deserve better than Wayne Swan,” Palmer said in a statement announcing his decision to run in an election due in the second half of next year. “I look forward to giving Mr. Swan a harsh lesson in democracy on polling day.”

Swan, who has criticized Palmer and fellow mining magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest for threatening the democratic process by using their wealth to shape policy, said he would “relish” the fight. The government’s 30 percent tax on coal and iron-ore profits, which Palmer opposes, comes into force on July 1.

“Certain individuals with deep pockets can not only distort public policy debate, but also public policy outcomes,” Swan, who holds Lilley by a 3.2 percentage point margin, said at a news conference in Canberra. “I relish the prospect of fighting for working Australians in this contest with Mr. Palmer and the Liberal Party, who simply represent vested interests.”

Budget Surplus

Swan, named as Euromoney magazine’s finance minister of the year in 2011, will next week deliver a budget that will seek to end four years of deficits in the 12 months beginning July 1. Achieving that will require him to withdraw the equivalent of about 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from the economy, the biggest fiscal tightening in at least 40 years.

The mining industry is speculating the government intends to end an offset on diesel tax. The Minerals Council of Australia took out a full-page advertisement in the Australian newspaper two days ago criticizing such a move.

Swan lambasted Palmer and other mining billionaires in an article in The Monthly magazine in March, saying they were undermining the Australian notion of a “fair go” -- where everyone has an opportunity to prosper. He cited a campaign against an earlier version of the mining tax in 2010 that contributed to the ouster of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government trails opposition leader Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition by 19 percentage points, a margin that if replicated at the election would represent a landslide defeat, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper April 17. The survey of 1,205 people, conducted April 13-15, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“Julia Gillard’s days are numbered,” said Palmer, who earlier today announced a deal to build a modern version of the Titanic with the help of a Chinese shipyard. Last month, he accused the U.S. government of funding Greens activists via the Central Intelligence Agency to undermine Australia’s coal mining industry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net

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