Mark McGowan has taken the stand in his defamation trial involving Clive Palmer, saying the billionaire’s “deeply offensive” statements had contributed to death threats against him and his family.
Giving evidence on Monday in the Federal Court in Sydney, the West Australian premier said various public comments by Mr Palmer had left him “extremely angry”, hurt and exasperated and caused him many sleepless nights.
Mr Palmer is suing Mr McGowan, claiming public comments — including labelling the Queensland businessman the “enemy of the state” — had damaged his reputation.
The premier has lodged a counter-claim that he was defamed in several of Mr Palmer’s interviews and statements.
Among these was a claim in July 2020 that he had lied by claiming to have acted on the chief health officer’s advice in implementing a hard border closure.
Mr McGowan described some people in WA as having been in a “state of terror” about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For a national figure like Mr Palmer to accuse me of lying in that context, when it was a period of high drama and certainly a period of high stress for me, was a deeply offensive statement that I had to endure,” he told the court.
“I had literally people coming to my house in Rockingham yelling at my wife and children about … how we had to take action, people in a state of quite heightened anxiety in the community.
“I am actually prone to sleepless nights and at that point in time I had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about everything that was going on. His behaviour was very unhelpful and quite hurtful.”
Mr McGowan described various threats made against him and his family throughout the pandemic, including a package containing white powder being sent to his wife and a person driving an armoured car with fake machine guns to his electorate office.
He said he now had a police car constantly parked outside his home and officers accompanying him everywhere he went.
“This sort of stuff that Mr Palmer says and does promotes and contributes to this type of behaviour in society,” Mr McGowan said.
“My entire family is under threat because of all this madness that people like Mr Palmer stir up.”
Mr Palmer and his company Mineralogy launched a failed bid in the High Court that year to have WA’s hard border declared unconstitutional.
Further background to the case relates to the McGowan government introducing extraordinary legislation which prevented Mr Palmer and Mineralogy from suing the state for billions of dollars over the Balmoral South iron ore project.
In his evidence last month, Mr Palmer said he was “scared” because provisions in the legislation protected the government from criminal prosecution.
His look at the law indicated “they could really do anything to me”.
Referring to the fictional character James Bond and his “licence to kill”, Mr Palmer told the court: “I didn’t know what the limits might be.”
In a statement shared by Mr Palmer on social media in August 2020, the billionaire claimed Mr McGowan had engaged in a “concerted effort to cover up his personal involvement in breaking the law”.
Mr McGowan said the suggestion he was corrupt was a deep wrong against his character.
He described Mr Palmer’s attempt to claim up to $30 billion in damages from the state as an act of “extraordinary greed”.
“If I had my time again I’d do exactly the same thing again because it was such a threat to the finances and the health of the state,” he said.
The trial continues.