Clive Palmer owes $270M to liquidators, workers, creditors, taxpayers – and apparently also to Parliament
ABC News uncovered a $7,000 debt Palmer still owes taxpayers from the last time he served in Parliament, 1000 days ago (Jackson Gothe-Snape, 04-04-2019, “Clive Palmer over 1,000 days late repaying debt despite $27.5m election advertising blitz“). This is due to overspending on his entitlements on his staff travel budget four years ago. What’s so surprising about this debt is that Clive Palmer has recently been named the richest man in Queensland, with a fortune estimated at $4.5B. Can Queensland’s richest man not spare $7,000?
The discrepancy between Palmer’s wealth and his unwillingness to make good on his debts has drawn the outrage of many: how can such a wealthy man, with such an outsized public profile, refuse to pay such small amounts to the less fortunate, and in some cases to destitute former employees?
While the story, which has gone viral on Twitter, amuses many, some find it deeply disturbing, especially as the financial situation of his former employees in Townsville deteriorates some 2 years following the collapse of Queensland Nickel (QNI). The refinery, which was purchased from BHP in 2009 and then systematically stripped of its cash to fund Palmer’s business, political and personal projects, collapsed with $300 million in debts in 2016, leaving some 800 without work.
Once QNI went bankrupt, the Government was forced to pay $67 million to employees under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, which provides money for workers when companies go bust. These funds should have been paid by Palmer as QNI’s sole owner, but the billionaire refused to pay, and now the government and liquidators are hoping to recover some $200 million from his related corporate entities and another $70 million from Mr. Palmer himself. The trial is set to be heard in the Supreme Court of Queensland in July.
Palmer recently made Queensland Nickel an “insulting offer,” according to the company’s liquidators. On March 21st, 2019 he offered workers and creditors (including small Townsville businesses) just 10 cents on the dollar for what he owes. Many were outraged by the offer, especially since Palmer has spent over $27.5 million in advertising since last September to promote his United Australia Party – some $5.5 million in the past three weeks alone.
If Palmer can afford to spend so much on ads, why can’t he pay back the workers, they ask.
Some sources say National Australia Bank is also to blame, as it holds Mr. Palmer’s personal bank account. How can NAB continue to facilitate Palmer’s business and political activity when it knows he has a huge outstanding unpaid debt to the people of Australia and many creditors. In July, Palmer might need to pay back to taxpayers $70M from his personal account.
These sources also stress that the ASIC investigation has reached some condemnatory conclusions regarding Clive Palmer’s involvement as a shadow director in the collapse of Queensland Nickel, but are rumoured to be waiting until after the upcoming elections to avoid being accused of influencing the election outcome. So where can Palmer find money to pay his debts?
Palmer’s return to Australia’s rich list is mostly due to royalties paid to his company Mineralogy from CITIC for an iron project in WA called Sino Iron, close to Cape Preston. The royalties Palmer receives from CITIC have allowed his campaign advertising blitz and bankrolled his aspirations to return to Parliament. However, Palmer’s legal battle against CITIC, his refusal to give land for a new Sino Iron tailings dam and his attack on the Cape Preston port and airstrip all put the project at risk.
What will happen when this golden goose stops laying shiny golden eggs? Will Palmer be able to repay his debts? Can the Australian people trust NAB, ASIC and the Federal Government to claim back our taxpayer money, or will he be bailed out and forgiven?
Whatever comes to be with Queensland Nickel and Sino Iron, one thing’s for sure: Queensland’s richest man needs to pay up and the courts and regulators are moving to ensure this happens. Fiscal responsibility is crucial for a businessman, but even more so for a public servant.