Mining magnate edges closer to winning seat in Australia poll

Australian Billionaire Clive Palmer speaks at a press conference to announce his plan to build Titanic II at the Ritz
Australian Billionaire Clive Palmer speaks at a news conference to announce his plan to build Titanic II, a modern replica of the doomed ocean liner, at the Ritz in central London March 2, 2013. Reuters/Olivia Harris

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer on Tuesday edged closer to winning a seat in the national parliament, where his start-up Palmer United Party could pose major problems for new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The self-described billionaire and resort owner who plans to build a replica of the Titanic finished seven votes ahead of his nearest rival in his Queensland electorate of Fairfax after the official count of more than 89,000 votes.

But Palmer now faces an agonising wait as election officials carry out a recount automatically triggered by any result closer than 100 votes.

"The Divisional Returning Officer, Fairfax, will now proceed with a formal recount of over 89,000 votes cast by electors for the division," the Australian electoral commission said in a statement.

Palmer was not available to comment on the election result.

Palmer, who made his initial fortune in Queensland real estate, cashed in on a huge protest vote against the major parties at Australia's September 7 elections.

The outspoken Palmer was once the biggest donor and member of the Queensland's conservative Liberal-National Party until he quit in late 2012 to set up his own Palmer United Party.

The initial count gave Palmer 42,337 votes compared to 42,330 votes for the Liberal-National Party candidate, with almost 5,000 votes ruled invalid.

Palmer ran on a platform of slashing income and fringe benefits taxes, while also boosting pensions and health spending and making home loans tax deductible to encourage housing construction.

If he wins a seat, he will have no impact on Abbott's ability to control a majority in the lower house of Parliament. But Palmer's party has won at least two seats in the upper house Senate, where Abbott could need Palmer's support to pass legislation and to scrap a carbon tax and a mining tax.

Palmer lists litigation as one of his hobbies, and his company Mineralogy remains involved in legal action with China's CITIC Pacific Ltd, over royalties and port access for CITIC's $8 billion Sino Iron project, which is on land leased from Palmer.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)