Clive Palmer has defended multi-million-dollar donations from his struggling Queensland Nickel refinery to the Palmer United Party (PUP).
The ABC on Saturday revealed that Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) figures showed Queensland Nickel donated $288,516 to PUP on December 31, just a fortnight before sacking staff at the Yabulu refinery near Townsville.
During the 2014–2015 financial year, Queensland Nickel had enough money to donate $5,947,720 to the party.
In the past two years, Queensland Nickel donated more than $21 million directly to PUP.
But Mr Palmer has told the ABC the nearly $290,000 donation was not made on the date listed on the report.
“In relation to the $290,000 donation, the report was lodged on the 31st of December – the donations weren’t made on that day – and they relate mainly as I understand it to the use of the offices and things like that,” he said.
But two disclosures uploaded to the ECQ website, which were each respectively signed off by Queensland Nickel’s managing director Clive Mensink and tax accountant Alex Carlyle, said the donation was made on December 31, 2015 and received by the ECQ on January 13, 2016.
Mr Palmer also said a $15 million donation made in 2013 was used to set up the Palmer United Party, in a bid to abolish the carbon tax, and had been money well spent.
“As a result, all the manufacturing industry in Australia didn’t have to pay the carbon tax, and we [Palmer United Party] reduced electricity prices by 10 per cent for all Australians,” he said.
“Now that saved the refinery $24 million a year.
“Without Palmer United doing that, the refinery – like many other businesses across Australia – would have been closed and many more workers would have lost their jobs.”
Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg described the job losses as an “absolute travesty”.
“What we are seeing now is self-justifying gobbledygook from Mr Palmer, someone who is prepared to pay himself huge amounts in political donations from his company, while sacking 240 workers from the same company, and having the audacity to say to Queensland taxpayers they should bail him out,” he said.
Donation to PUP ‘beggars belief’
Mineralogy, another one of Mr Palmer’s ventures, gave $400,000 to the party during the Christmas period, which was on top of $3.5 million donated in the months prior.
On Friday, Mr Mensink, who is the managing director of the Yabulu refinery, said he would ensure the venture continued operating.
On Sunday, Mr Palmer said he personally gave the refinery $2.8 million last year so workers could be paid for Christmas.
On Saturday, Ewen Jones, federal MP for Herbert in north Queensland, said it was hard to understand why Queensland Nickel had to retrench the workers.
“I think Mr Palmer should use every bit of his influence with both himself, Queensland Nickel and Palmer United Party, to send the message to everyone in Townsville and all levels of government that he is very serious about this refinery, and do whatever he can to make sure that the money donated by Queensland Nickel to the Palmer United Party is repaid as a matter of faith,” he said.
“It beggars belief to be quite honest that you can have what was going on in December between Mr Palmer, Queensland Nickel, Mr Mensink and the Queensland Government and then they turn around and say they can donate another $290,000.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the donations were a matter for Mr Palmer.
“But I’m quite sure the workers of Queensland Nickel will have a very firm view in relation to that matter,” she said.
“The priority for Mr Palmer should have been for the jobs and the workers at Queensland Nickel.”
State Government’s refusal to guarantee loan a disgrace: Palmer
Mr Palmer said the assistance Queensland Nickel sought from the State Government was minimal, and did not involve funding.
“A guarantee of $30 million behind our $2 billion of assets to save these 240 jobs,” he said.
“It was a disgrace the Queensland Government didn’t do it, especially when they shell out every year a $40 million cheque that they give to a multi-national company, Rio Tinto, for the operations in Gladstone.”
Mr Palmer said claims Queensland Nickel would not open their books to the State Government during bailout negotiations were wrong.
“We’ve got audited accounts by Ernst and Young – they brought in KPMG to do a report for the Government,” he said.
“Our books were open enough for them to produce a 20-page report back to the Government.
“We pointed out a number of errors in the report – they didn’t want to correct them and then they wanted us to say that it was correct when some of it wasn’t.
“They didn’t deal with our auditors at any time – they were just trying to get information to have a shot at me politically.
“It’s not about me – it’s about the families in Townsville that have lost their jobs.”
Projects to be brought forward to deliver jobs to state’s north
Meanwhile, the Queensland Government has announced it will bring forward more than $60 million in road and public works projects to create jobs in the region after the refinery job losses.
Ms Palaszczuk said there was no new funding being allocated, but she was giving her ministers a week to identify more shovel-ready projects in the state’s north.
“The departments have said they can get this list ready in two weeks – I want it ready for the first Cabinet meeting on Monday week,” she said.
“That is my priority, that is the priority of this Government, the priority of my ministers.”