Clive Palmer’s United Australia party will recommend preferencing the Liberals and Nationals ahead of Labor in a swathe of key marginal seats, in a boost to Scott Morrison’s election prospects.
Despite Palmer previously promising the party would preference all incumbents last as part of his concerted campaign against the two major parties, UAP has decided to recommend preferences to at least three Liberal incumbent MPs in key marginal seats, including Gladys Liu in Chisholm, Fiona Martin in Reid, and Bridget Archer in Bass.
It will also support Liberal incumbents Jason Falinski in Mackellar and Dave Sharma in Wentworth, who are under threat from so-called teal independents, with both candidates trading the second preference position with the UAP.
Independent candidates Sophie Scamps in Mackellar and Allegra Spender in Wentworth have both slammed the moderate MPs for the move, and demanded to know details of the “dirty deal” struck between the two parties.
But Palmer told Sky News on Monday evening his party had put the North Sydney moderate Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman at the bottom of the how-to-vote card “because he’s preferenced the Labor Party over ... our party”.
Palmer said another significant Liberal figure placed at the bottom of the UAP how-to-vote card was Peter Dutton in the marginal Queensland seat of Dickson.
Sources monitoring pre-poll voting in Queensland say the only electorates in the state where the UAP has recommended preferences to Labor above the LNP on how-to-vote cards are Dickson, Griffith, McPherson and Groom.
Palmer will support the LNP candidate in the Queensland seat of Flynn, Colin Boyce, ahead of the Labor challenger, a high profile former mayor Matt Burnett.
Labor had been targeting Flynn in the hope of picking up one regional Queensland seat, but Palmer preferences, assuming locals follow the how-to-vote cards, will likely make that impossible.
As previously reported by Guardian Australia, the UAP will back the LNP MP for the Queensland seat of Wide Bay, Llew O’Brien, because he had supported an effort to bring on debate about a private member’s bill prohibiting Covid-19 vaccine passports.
In the NSW seat of Reid, which Labor is confident of picking up from the Coalition, UAP will initially direct preferences to other minor parties and independent Natalie Baini, but has decided to preference incumbent Liberal MP Fiona Martin ahead of Labor’s Sally Sitou.
It will also preference the Coalition in the seat of Hunter, where the Nationals are hoping to win the heartland Labor seat for the first time, and in Gilmore, where the Liberal party is hoping to unseat Labor’s Fiona Phillips. The Liberals’ Andrew Constance has been placed third on the Palmer ticket.
In the Hunter, UAP will preference other minor parties including independent candidate Stuart Bonds and One Nation candidate Dale McNamara, before directing preferences to the Nationals’ James Thomson in fifth position. Labor’s Dan Repacholi has been listed eighth on the ticket, ahead of the Greens.
The Liberals are also set to benefit from Palmer preferences in the seat of Parramatta where it is hoping to cause an upset with its candidate Maria Kovacic. The UAP candidate Julian Fayad has been campaigning strongly against Labor’s captain’s pick candidate Andrew Charlton, and has previously told the Guardian he intended to preference the Liberals.
In Labor’s most marginal seat of Macquarie, held on a 0.2% margin, the Liberals have been placed fourth on the ticket, while Labor has been placed seventh.
In Dobell, held by Labor on a 1.5% margin, the Liberal candidate Michael Feneley is ahead of Labor MP Emma McBride.
Amid simmering concern about the impact of Palmer preferences on the fringes of Melbourne, UAP has also decided to preference the Liberals in the new seat of Hawke to the city’s west, placing the party in sixth position ahead of Labor’s Sam Rae in the ninth spot.
Labor strategists are deeply concerned that the preference allocations will make it more difficult to either gain or hold outer suburban Melbourne seats. In Western Australia, all incumbents are being preferenced last.
Palmer told Sky News that stance was because the major parties in WA were “ganging up together to defeat democracy”.
“The Liberal party has preferenced the Labor party over the United Australia party and the Labor party has preferenced the Liberal party directly over United Australia party,” he said.
“So in Western Australia, we’ve decided to put every sitting member - the Liberal party has 10 sitting members, and they’ll all be last on our card, and the Labor party has five sitting members that will be last on our card.”
In the Labor-held Queensland seat of Blair, Palmer is said to be running an open ticket, and in the Labor-held western Sydney marginal seat of Greenway, the UAP will preference the Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland ahead of her Liberal challenger.
UAP leader Craig Kelly told Guardian Australia that the party had ample volunteers available to hand out how to vote cards, and the party would not need to pay people to man polling booths as it had in previous elections.
“These are only recommendations and we are hoping that the way our polling is going and tracking we will finish first or second,” Kelly said.
At a press conference on Saturday, Clive Palmer said that the party was preferencing Liberal or “Liberal independents” in 60% of seats, and Labor candidates in 40% of seats.
“We are really focusing on our other policy and where people stand on freedom in this country,” he said, pointing to his desire for an Australian bill of rights.
In his interview with Sky News on Monday night, Palmer gave a slightly different split of the UAP preference recommendations nationwide: “The overall situation shows about 45% of Labor above Libs and about 55% of Liberals above Labor.”
Additional reporting Daniel Hurst