Airstrip sparks wild China invasion claim
Experts in strategic defence and marketing have dismissed the latest TV ad from Clive Palmer's United Australia Party, describing claims that "communist China" is attempting a "clandestine takeover of our country" as "tacky scaremongering" and "mind farts".
Mr Palmer ramped up his political rhetoric last week, claiming in the new political ad the Chinese government was working with Australian politicians to make military moves on Australian shores.
The two-minute ad, which resembles a YouTube conspiracy video, takes aim at the West Australian Labor Party and the federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, saying "we can't trust Labor with our future" because of the party's supposed ties with "communist China".
The ad's scariest claim centres on an airport built on red dirt in WA's remote northwest, about 80km south of Karratha and 30km inland from the Port of Cape Preston.
The ad suggests the Chinese could use the airport to invade Australia, take over the state's resources by stealth and support a "large ground force".
"Chinese communist-owned companies with the help of the Labor Party built and constructed a private jet airport," the ad claims.
"Australia could not repel military aircraft if they landed from carriers offshore. A superior military air force could, in effect, control all of Western Australia's resources in the Pilbara and the North West Shelf gas reserves," retired Royal Australian Airforce squadron leader Martin Brewster says in a voiceover during the ad. Mr Brewster is also Mr Palmer's nephew and a former manager at the billionaire's Queensland Nickel mine.
The ad goes on to explain the airport could "in effect" support a "Chinese communist" army.
"It has the facilities necessary to support and sustain large-scale naval operations in the Indian Ocean," former Royal Australian Navy commander Phil Collins says in another voiceover.
"The power generation and water desalination plant, together with the bunker fuel capacity, provide the necessary logistics to provide a large ground force equipped with heavy equipment."
The airport is attached to an iron ore mine privately run by Chinese mining company CITIC, which is leasing a tract of land from Mr Palmer's Mineralogy company.
CITIC and Mr Palmer is currently in an ugly international legal dispute.
Strategic defence expert Ron Huisken called the ad "sensational nonsense" before pointing out Mr Palmer had his own complex business entanglements with a Chinese company.
"This is rather tacky scaremongering - with poor grammar to boot - (trying) to leverage actual developments (including) a Chinese concern being involved in a 99-year lease to operate the Port of Darwin, repeated attempts by a consortium that included a major Chinese player to buy very large pastoral leases, and the Sam Dastyari saga," Dr Huisken said, in reference to the former Labor senator who resigned after his close ties to Chinese interests were exposed.
Dr Huisken dismissed the idea that the construction of an airfield was an aggressive move by "Chinese communists", explaining that having an airport at a large mine was commonplace.
"A superior force could, by definition, prevail in any circumstances, but flying combat aircraft into these company airfields is sensational nonsense," said Dr Huisken, who is an adjunct associate professor at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.
He questioned just what the aircraft would do after landing in the Pilbara.
"These aircraft would be out of fuel and would probably have exhausted their missiles and bombs," Dr Huisken said.
"If the Chinese could not bring fuel, spare parts and munitions to these airfields the aircraft would immediately be candidates for the war museum in Canberra."
He also noted Mr Palmer was in business with a Chinese company.
The UAP's James McDonald also alleges in the ad that WA Labor MP Pierre Shuai Yang is acting in the interest of the "Chinese communist government and not Australia".
The sentiments about Mr Yang were echoed in flyers distributed by Mr Palmer across Victoria and the Northern Territory.
"We can't trust Labor with our future. The Chinese government won't allow Australians or any Australian company to control ports or airports in China. Why should Bill Shorten or (WA Premier) Mark McGowan allow them to control our strategic assets?" the ad asks, before imploring viewers to vote for the UAP.
Mr Yang last year defended his character after resigning from Chinese organisations linked to the communist party. He claimed when he became a member of the groups he was naive of their links with the communist party.
News.com.au contacted Mr Yang for comment on this story but he has not responded.
PALMER'S STRATEGY 'A SERIES OF MIND FARTS'
Mr Palmer is estimated to have spent $50 million on his advertising blitz, which has included TV ads, full-page ads in newspapers and billboards.
He has even shelled out to air his commercials on Australia's highest-rating show, Married At First Sight.
An advertising expert, who has worked on dozens of political campaigns, said the ads were "absolutely woeful" and called the political messaging around China a type of personal therapy for the billionaire, who is embroiled in a legal stoush with Chinese company CITIC.
"Clive has an axe to grind with some Chinese people," said Toby Ralph, a marketer who has worked on about 50 election campaigns worldwide.
"This might be a public way of being on the psychoanalyst's chair for him.
"He's spending $20 to $30 million at the moment," added Mr Ralph, who has controlled in the vicinity of $1 billion in advertising over the course of his career.
Mr Ralph said there was a gap between the amount of money spent on the campaign and the quality of the ads.
"(The ads) look very self-made. He's either getting crappy advice and taking it, or he's taking his own advice," Mr Ralph said.
"The level of money he's investing, it's astonishing he isn't taking professional advice. He could make a difference and could get a lot of votes.
"The messaging, strategy and the execution is absolutely woeful, and it does him very little good. In the private polling I'm doing he is picking up very little votes for the money he's putting down."
When asked about where this shift in tone fits among the UAP's larger narrative, Mr Ralph was dismissive of the idea of a "larger plan".
"It's a series of mind farts rather than a disciplined campaign," he said.
"It's just a big mess. No narratives emerges from it. He doesn't appear to be building towards a point. He veers from opportunity to opportunity. It's all tactics, no strategy."
Mr Ralph went on to explain how minor party campaigning generally skewed towards negative messaging against the major parties.
"The job in much of contemporary electioneering is to encourage a small percentage of voters to despise the other guy more than they despise you," he said.
"But he's doing it so badly."
Mr Palmer spruiked the ad with his signature mass unsolicited text messages, telling recipients their "freedom is under threat".
Australians have become accustomed to Mr Palmer's face and voice by now.
The self-appointed "living national treasure" has stubbornly embedded himself into the Aussie media landscape over the past four months, occupying TV screens, radios and YouTube with a relentless stream of noisy ads. His billboards litter highways and arterial roadways, and letterboxes are filled with his flyers.
It is estimated he has sent about five million unsolicited political texts since October.
News.com.au contacted Mr Palmer and UAP for comment but they have not responded.