The Turnbull government is gearing up to go after disgraced businessman Clive Palmer’s assets as his Queensland Nickel refinery prepares to go into liquidation.
A report by creditors FTI Consulting claimed the company had continued to trade in 2016 despite being insolvent since November, 2015.
More than 700 sacked Queensland Nickel workers are owed $73 million in missed entitlements, with many unable to access welfare until a decision is made on the company’s future.
“A decision will be made in the next 24 hours,” Employment Minister Michaelia Cash told Sky News on Wednesday.
The minister has the discretion to order an early release of the funds, but believes Mr Palmer is morally obliged to cover the entitlements.
Ms Cash said the government would pursue “every possible legal action” to recover the funds from Mr Palmer’s own pockets, rather than from taxpayers.
“I think it is a disgrace that Clive Palmer may well get off the hook,” she said.
Mr Turnbull also insisted Mr Palmer should be the one making good the entitlements.
“That’s the very least he can do in these circumstances,” he said, noting that Mr Palmer had held himself up as a great business leader and philanthropist.
But Mr Palmer, whose other businesses and property assets are likely to be targeted once the company is liquidated, claims FTI’s report is full of fabrications and has called the story a “beat up”.
“The truth of the matter is the administrators are embarking on a campaign to secure more funds for their exorbitant fees,” he told The Australian.
“They have already paid themselves $4 million and are seeking to liquidate Queensland Nickel to pay themselves another $5 million.”
Mr Palmer also said it would be cheaper and easier to save Queensland Nickel than to shut it down, sell off the assets and clean up the site.
“What we should be doing is trying to get the federal and state governments and company and the community working together to save the refinery and reopen it and keep everyone’s jobs in north Queensland,” he said.
“It really only needs a little bit of an upturn in the price and it will be able to sustain north Queensland again.”
The Victorian government has said it would prefer Mr Palmer to sell the operation to someone who can keep it going.
Administrators claim Queensland Nickel was used as a “piggy bank” by Mr Palmer in better times to prop us his various other businesses, and that the refinery could have stayed afloat for a number of years had the millions of dollars it distributed been paid back.
These included $43 million transferred on a single day in 2012 from QN to nine “related entities” including Mr Palmer’s father-in-law.
– with ABC