With a Federal Election looming a new form of street art has suddenly appeared all over Australia. Not some mindless variant on popular graffiti or a lovingly painted street mural – no, it’s the defaced Clive Palmer United Australia Party billboard. With a budget that seems to know no bounds, Clive has been plastering the urban landscape with his “Put Australia First” and “Make Australia Great” billboards. Given his current level of popularity, it’s an open invitation for anybody with a spray can to have both a bit of fun and make a strong political statement.
The ‘modifications’ to Clive’s billboards recall a similar movement from the late 1970s which began in Sydney and soon spread to the other capital cities. ‘BUGAUP’ or ‘Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions’ targeted mainly cigarette and alcohol billboards, which proliferated at the time. Humour was their biggest weapon which often involved blocking out certain letters to create a totally different message.
Unlike America where billboards abound at every election from local council officials to the Presidency itself, Australia has never been big on in your face outdoor advertising when it comes to pushing or damming a particular candidate. For starters billboards aren’t cheap, they are often considered crass and grandiose and political parties no doubt see better ways to spend their electioneering dollar. They are also vulnerable and when they are defaced they are immediately open to ridicule and the costly expense of repapering.
Most political candidates these days, from local government through to the Feds, prefer the smaller portrait style poster, widely displayed on lamp posts, in shop windows and just about anywhere they can be noticed. They too are subject to the occasional defacing or outright theft as has recently been the case. Their actual legal status as outdoor advertising is open to question – stick up a pole poster advertising a rock’n’roll gig and you could be liable for prosecution. It seems a blind eye is conveniently turned when elections roll around.
Which brings us back to the larger than life Clive Palmer who is apparently splurging millions to promote his resurrected Palmer United Party, now branded the United Australia Party. Despite being very much on the nose after the closure of his Townsville nickel refinery, Clive is obviously drawing much inspiration from the current Trump presidency with his simplistic appeal to nationalism and his appropriated slogans like “Make Australia Great”.
The general feeling is that Australian voters are nowhere near as dumb as their American counterparts when it comes to political hype, with many political commentators already claiming that no UAP candidate will be elected anywhere. If Clive is spending a reported 10 million dollars on the UAP campaign, it can’t be entirely a matter of boosting his already humongous ego – or can it?
Maybe he just likes the idea of seeing his beaming face on a multitude of billboards from Townsville to Hobart and is not all that perturbed when they are drastically realtered. The only thing worse than being a political has-been is a has-been that nobody notices. Even if you lose the ‘G’ and the ‘R’ from your popular slogan at least somebody will observe that the rather portly Clive is urging to ‘MAKE AUSTRALIA EAT’.