The Australian election campaign is drawing to a fractious close, amid Labor claims that the opposition wants to turn the nation into a cross between Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, and bizarre allegations by the mining magnate Clive Palmer that Rupert Murdoch’s estranged wife, Wendi Deng, is a Chinese spy.
As voters prepared for a probable change of government in tomorrow’s election, the Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, lambasted the leader of the conservative Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, for advocating that Australia take a cautious approach to the Syrian conflict and not “get ideas beyond our station”.
“Australians have always had ideas above their station,” Mr Rudd told the National Press Club in Canberra. “The conservative mission, sometimes explicitly stated as such, is to return us to that point in history where everything is imagined to have been just fine and dandy … a cocktail of the 1950s, Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, where plainly everyone did know their station.”
Mr Rudd has accused Mr Murdoch of waging a campaign against Labor through his newspapers. And today, Mr Palmer – leader of the Palmer United Party – went one step further, threatening to sue the News Corp chairman over an article questioning his wealth, qualifications and influence. In radio and television interviews, he then made the extraordinary claim about Ms Deng, saying: “She’s been spying on Rupert for years, giving money back to Chinese intelligence … Wendi Deng is a Chinese spy, that’s why Rupert got rid of her, and that’s the truth.”
Asked by one interviewer to substantiate the allegation, Mr Palmer – who is expected to get one Queensland candidate into the Senate – told her to “go to Google [and] look it up”.
The tycoon also declared that Mr Murdoch – who filed for divorce from Ms Deng in June – “will be sued by me today, and will be brought to Australia to answer these questions in the Supreme Court … It’s time this fellow was brought to account, this foreigner who tries to dictate what we do.”
It is not the first time Mr Palmer has aired colourful claims. In March, he alleged that the CIA was funding the Australian Greens party, in an effort to undermine the coal industry.
This week, according to reports, he filed a A$800,000 (£470,000) lawsuit against a former Liberal minister, Mal Brough. Mr Palmer claims that Mr Brough – who is seeking re-election – asked him to fund a sexual harassment case against a rival candidate, the former parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper. Mr Brough defamed him by denying that happened, he says.
In the article that aroused his wrath today, The Australian described Mr Palmer as “a man with a history of peddling fantasies that often morph into a unique version of reality”.
Meanwhile, News Corp websites accidentally ran an advertisement describing Murdoch newspapers as “crap” today. The ad, made by activist group, GetUp!, shows a man scooping up dog excrement with a copy of the Courier Mail, a Queensland tabloid. It was hastily removed.