Odd couple in on the act

It's an unlikely match - the mining magnate-turned-populist politician and the environmental evangelical.

But in Canberra where nothing usually stays secret for long, savvy strategists worked behind the scenes for weeks on Wednesday's shock double act of Clive Palmer and Al Gore.

Matchmaker was played by Don Henry, the recently departed head of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Henry, a board member on Mr Gore's Climate Reality Project, was asked by the former US vice-president about three months ago whom he should meet during a trip to Australia.

"I thought it would be good for Clive Palmer to hear firsthand from one of the world's leading experts and committed people on climate action," Mr Henry said.

On the surface, Mr Palmer seemed an odd choice to woo.

After all, he had big plans for coal mines in Queensland, he had vowed to abolish the carbon tax and as recently as April dismissed global warming as part of nature's cycle.

Mr Henry reached out to John Clements, a senior adviser to former independent MP Tony Windsor who was friendly with Mr Palmer, to act as an intermediary.

Delicate talks ensued between the two camps. Ben Oquist, a former chief of staff to Bob Brown and now strategy director for left-wing think tank the Australia Institute, was roped in to help.

Mr Gore would only appear with Mr Palmer before the media if the MP had moved on climate action. But Mr Palmer would not budge on axing the carbon tax, nor would his senators-elect allow support for bringing forward the start of a floating price.

Instead he agreed to establish a new ETS but with a zero price, ready to kick in when major trading partners took similar steps.

For the environmental movement, Mr Gore's involvement was crucial because he extracted from Mr Palmer protection for the 20 per cent renewable energy target, the retention of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority.

WA senator-elect Dio Wang also helped shift his leader's views, even though during the re-run WA Senate poll Mr Palmer shot down Mr Wang for endorsing the RET.

Mr Palmer attributed his change of heart to keeping an open mind in talks with Mr Gore.

"I thought the most profound thing he said to me was that in 10 years' time, this'll be the most important decision for our planet and for our country," he said.

Although Mr Gore pointed out he was disappointed the carbon price was going, he praised Mr Palmer for dealing with the "climate crisis".

"They didn't agree on everything but they did agree on some really, really important things," Mr Henry said.

Though Mr Gore can fetch up to $500,000 on the speakers' circuit, no fee was paid.

But Mr Gore flew to Canberra on Mr Palmer's private jet.

Mr Palmer and Mr Gore fronted the media for just 12 minutes, refusing to take questions. Mr Palmer said they had an "urgent dinner" to get to in one of Parliament's private dining rooms.

About 20 people crowded around the table and as Mr Palmer tucked into the salmon and Mr Gore his vegan dish, they celebrated a match worthy of a Mills and Boon novel.

The West Australian

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