BOB KATTER: Well I’m tenaciously opposed to Clive (Palmer) getting the railway line or any other private person. And remember that these people represent foreign corporations, Gina Rinehart etcetera. And even if they represented Australia, even if Clive represented an Australian organisation, I would still be tenaciously opposed to it. Because once you get that rail, control of that railway line, you then control half of Australia’s coal reserves.
Monday 25 November 2013 (Final Four Corners of 2013)
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: The enigma of Clive Frederick Palmer, welcome to Four Corners.
He’s just emerged from his first two weeks in the Federal Parliament, but many people are still wondering what Clive Palmer is actually doing there.
It’s true that he’s always mixed business with politics; his political pedigree goes all the way back to Australia’s most successful populist, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. And as his business interest grew, so that his voice that was once inside the National Party in Queensland and is now the LNP (Liberal National Party).
But Clive Palmer has never been accused of subtlety and when he’s crossed, he doesn’t seem to care how powerful his enemies are, he takes them on regardless.
Those enemies now include the Queensland and Australian governments and a significant business arm of the Chinese government.
The self claimed billionaire says he’s been motivated to give people a voice, but he only established his new Palmer United Party after a spectacular falling-out with Queensland’s Premier and Deputy Premier, when he failed to get his way on a massive new coal project that could now be still-born.
So what does Clive Palmer really want to do with his newfound political muscle? One seat in the House of Representatives and the potential balance of power in the Senate. And can he do it without conflicted interests?
Marian Wilkinson reports.
(Sound of golfers teeing off)
MARIAN WILKINSON, REPORTER: Coolum on Queensland’s sunshine coast. A perfect spot for a few rounds. Provided you’re happy to tee off with Jeff.
(Sound of Jeff the dinosaur roar)
A colossal joke, you might think, played by Clive Palmer on the Professional Golfers Association.
The PGA abandoned this famous course not long after Palmer installed Jeff the dinosaur between the ninth green and the tenth tee.
(Clive and Marian driving in a golf-buggy)
CLIVE PALMER, MP: I think the dinosaurs are good because little children under five don’t get much in this world. That’s why the wiggles were so popular.
MARIAN WILKINSON: You could have had a little natural walk or something like that?
CLIVE PALMER: Well dinosaurs there, don’t cause a lot of trouble, they’re not in a union, they don’t require a lot of food.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Clive the clown – it’s a role Palmer loves to play for the media.
CLIVE PALMER: Cameron Newman type here.
MARIAN WILKINSON: This is going to be the largest dinosaur park in Australia?
CLIVE PALMER: The world, because there’s 160 dinosaurs here. I think the biggest one in the world prior to this was in Texas where there’s 150.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But with Palmer, there is usually another story behind the scenes.
The giant dinosaurs, imported from China, are a high risk scheme to try to turn a troubled loss-making golf resort into a profitable family holiday destination.
CLIVE PALMER: Well we needed to get people into the resort; we employ more people, so we could get some more custom in our restaurants and things like that. So we thought dinosaurs was the way to go. That’s what we’ve done, we’ve brought in the dinosaurs and we’ve got enormous interest and we think we’ll get a great volume of people at the resort, you know.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Not such a big investment?
CLIVE PALMER: I don’t think so, no.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer is always quick to flick the switch back to vaudeville, whether he’s talking business or politics.
CLIVE PALMER: They’ll all be moving and animated; they’ll all have something to say when they’re all going. This whole dinosaur park works on the basis of one vote, one value. All dinosaurs are created equal with the right to be represented – by me of course.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But as we’ll see tonight, what drove Clive Palmer to become the new force in Australian politics is no laughing matter.
He spent a fortune in the recent federal election ensuring his Palmer United Party will be a thorn in the side of the Abbott Government. All because of a bitter falling out with his former Coalition allies in the Queensland government.
BOB KATTER MP, KATTER’S AUSTRALIAN PARTY: Here’s a bloke that has put them in office, annihilated the ALP, put the Premier where he is, um and he is completely thrown out a window and spat upon. If he is furious, I most certainly would be furious as well.
(Clive showing a half-constructed dinosaur)
CLIVE PALMER: Well he’s not finished yet, we got to put his mouth and tongue and teeth and that and whatever he’s eating in there, right?
BARNABY JOYCE MP, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: He comes across as sort of the effervescent, sometimes bumbling character and that is a ploy. You do not get to where you are by being a fool. You’re a fool if you think he’s a fool.
CLIVE PALMER: It’s good that he said that you shouldn’t underestimate me, you don’t want to overestimate Barnaby either, I’ll tell you that one, because Barnaby’s never, ever in his life, run a professional political party, he’s never run a campaign that I’m aware of and he’s never had major swings, you know?
(Clive Palmer talking to media)
CLIVE PALMER: All journalists and all states of Australia said that it couldn’t be done…
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer insists he is in Canberra because the Liberal National Party Government in his home state of Queensland turned against the ordinary folk, shedding thousands of public servants and cutting services.
CLIVE PALMER: I’m going to parliament to represent the 97 per cent of Australians who can’t afford to have a lobbyist here.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But those who know him well say Palmer’s here because the Queensland government turned against him – over the biggest mining deal of his career.
CLIVE PALMER: Well, that’s not true. I couldn’t in moral conscience stand by while 15,000 public servants were sacked when they didn’t need to be, while lies were told about the deficit and the debts of Queensland and we had suicides. We had five suicides that took place while those public servants were sacked.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But the story of how Palmer ended up in Canberra does begin with an $8 billion mining project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin – where Palmer’s plans ran into trouble with the state government.
The Galilee is home to the richest undeveloped coal fields in Australia. And Palmer’s Waratah Coal company holds exploration permits over almost 17,000 square kilometres of it.
Vast swathes of the Galilee woodlands were cleared for cattle years ago. This is one rare stretch that remains relatively intact.
(Marian walking in field with Paola Cassoni in Galilee)
PAOLA CASSONI: It’s a museum if you like in the bush.
MARIAN WILKINSON: And there’s a lovely aboriginal legend….
MARIAN WILKINSON: Known as Bimblebox, this property was supposed be preserved as a nature refuge for the region under an agreement with the Queensland and Federal Governments.
PAOLA CASSONI: The trees in this part of the country tickle the clouds and make it rain and in Bimblebox it does rain much more than in other places.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Grazier and conservationist Paola Cassoni ran up against Clive Palmer when he first announced he wanted to build his huge coal mine over part of Bimblebox.
PAOLA CASSONI: Half of it will get open cut and if anyone has seen an open cut mine they know what they look like, and the other half is going to be underground mining. It will be just destroyed. Just the same as for the open cut, so they might as well say the whole lot of the natural refuge will be mined and destroyed.
MARIAN WILKINSON: How determined do you think Clive Palmer is to develop the mine here?
PAOLA CASSONI: Well he looks determined; it looks like he wants to go ahead. He has known since 2007 that we were opposed to a mine here. He has never came here and talked to us or had a look at the countryside.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Two years ago, Bimblebox was cited as a habitat for the endangered black throated finch. A zoologist with the CSIRO noted 15 of the finches were spotted here – a finding that could have impeded the coal mine.
Palmer baldly insists the endangered finches are really not here.
CLIVE PALMER: Right now Queenslanders need jobs, they need growth, they need economic development. And a project like that can deliver probably 10 or 15,000 jobs to the Queensland economy, they’ve all got families that have to be supported and Australia needs extra exports, so I think those things probably come before a finch which doesn’t exist on the property.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The conservationists have campaigned for years to stop Bimblebox becoming part of Palmer’s coal mine. But in 2010 Palmer won the backing of Queensland’s then Labor government.
With coal prices soaring, Palmer pursued a major Chinese power company and Chinese investors to kick start his project.
(Sound of music)
CLIVE PALMER: Premier Bligh believed the deal could bring huge investment to Queensland. And in 2011 she publicly lent her support to Palmer at a high profile reception in Beijing.
(Sound of people greeting at reception in Beijing)
Madame Li Xiaolin, daughter of the former Chinese Premier, Li Peng, was at the top table. Chair of the giant China Power International company, she was potentially a huge customer for Palmer’s coal.
(Clive Palmer talking at reception)
CLIVE PALMER: It’s a great honour for me to be here tonight to welcome the premier of Queensland to Beijing. She’s also the national president of the Australian Labor Party, what a lot of you mightn’t realise, it’s a position equivalent to the general secretary to the communist party here in Beijing, so she’s a very influential girl indeed.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer needed investors and government approvals to get off the ground.
CLIVE PALMER: Basically that she’d been up to Beijing and she’d made public speeches up there with me and she’d supported our development there and major Chinese companies had indicated their support to construct, to fund and to purchase coal from the Galilee.
But Palmer had a tough competitor in the Galilee. Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman, also held big coal exploration permits in the basin.
PAUL MULDER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, HANCOCK COAL: If you actually look at when Hancock Prospecting took an interest in the Galilee Basin, it was before Clive Palmer took an interest in that.
And now see mid-2000s, this when Mrs Rinehart could see the medium to long term energy demand for a good quality low ash, low sulphur coal being in high demand and on that basis she very actively and very aggressively went to develop the Galilee Basin. And in doing so we’ve ensured that we have been ahead for since the very start.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Labor’s Premier Bligh was also encouraging Gina Rinehart’s Galilee plans. She was anxious not to back one miner over the other.
But it was Gina Rinehart who delivered the first big foreign investor.
(Sound of music)
BARNABY JOYCE: She found him in India. Billionaire, GV Krishna Reddy.
In 2011, his granddaughter’s extravagant wedding boasted 7,000 guests. Among them were Gina Rinehart and two senior Opposition figures she had flown in for the occasion, Liberal Julie Bishop and the National’s Barnaby Joyce.
BARNABY JOYCE: When Gina Rinehart said we’re trying to develop a market into India, you know I was very mindful that if there was some minor role for me in that then I would I’m happy to play it. For me it was also an education process to work out exactly how business is done at the top level internationally. Ah it’s very hard to explain to the general public that you might go to these weddings but it’s really ipso-facto a business function, and you are part and parcel of a mechanism to try and bring about an outcome, which is a securing of a major coal deal. People said well why would you be involved with that? Because the royalties go back to Queensland.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Gina Rinehart’s deal with GVK was consummated in September 2011, when she sold the bulk of her Hancock coal project in the Galilee to Reddy’s empire for $1.2 billion.
PAUL MULDER: They’ve invested well over a billion dollars to date, and in respect of that they will continue to develop this and continue working with Mrs Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting in the development of this project.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Hancock Coal had built a huge test pit in the Galilee by 2011. But Hancock’s coal, like Palmer’s, was stranded in the Galilee Basin, hundreds of kilometres from the coast.
Both projects needed government approvals for a private rail line and a port to unlock the billion dollar prize.
The private rail lines were a hot topic in Central Queensland.
BOB KATTER: Well I’m tenaciously opposed to Clive getting the railway line or any other private person. And remember that these people represent foreign corporations, Gina Rinehart etcetera. And even if they represented Australia, even if Clive represented an Australian organisation, I would still be tenaciously opposed to it. Because once you get that rail, control of that railway line, you then control half of Australia’s coal reserves.
MARIAN WILKINSON: In the end, six private coal companies wanted competing rail lines from the Galilee. Most were designed to end at Abbot Point on the coast, right next to the Great Barrier Reef.
Bligh’s government had controversially promised to massively expand the port at Abbot Point to allow the Galilee Basin miners to export their coal.
CLIVE PALMER: The government had a policy at that time to have a multifunction port, which they were funding. I think they’d spent $50 million on it and that was conveyed to the Chinese government. In addition to that, we had a standalone jetty, which we were promoting and had discussed with the department. And in the dying days of the Bligh government, she’d conducted a tender for a number of positions at the port.
(Sound of crowd cheering)
CROWD: Campbell, Campbell!
MARIAN WILKINSON: In March last year, the huge Galilee projects were still waiting on government approvals when the new Liberal National Party Government, the LNP, took office.
The landslide victory Campbell Newman, left Palmer ecstatic. He was a life member of the LNP and one of its biggest donors.
CLIVE PALMER: All Queenslanders have had their say, and what a say they’ve had. There could be no doubt that they want an LNP government, they want LNP policies and we’re lucky we’ve got a leader like Campbell, who’s not going to let them down. He’s the most successful political leader in the nation’s history, no one’s ever got this sort of vote in any state or federal election and Anna Bligh is the most disastrous leader in the nation’s history, no one’s lost by so much as she has. God bless her, God bless everything she’s done.
(Sound of national anthem, Jeff Seeney enters to be sworn in)
MARIAN WILKINSON: Newman took office promising Queensland a “Can do government”.
OFFICIAL: Mr Seeney would you please come forward and take the bible…
MARIAN WILKINSON: Newman’s Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, was put in charge of speeding up the development of the Galilee Basin.
JEFF SEENEY, DEPUTY PREMIER, QUEENSLAND: So help me God.
OFFICIAL: Thank you.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But Seeney was no friend of Palmer’s and the two were soon on a collision course.
CLIVE PALMER: I think our project was um disregarded. I don’t think it was anything against us personally. I think it was the fact that Mr Seeney and Mr Newman love GVK and loved India.
(Sound of clapping)
They thought they were better and it was quite extraordinary though, that they not only approved their project, they excluded others. And I think that’s the critical point we’ve got to question.
(Jeff Seeney and Tim Nicholls walking past media)
JEFF SEENEY: Morning everybody.
TIM NICHOLLS MP: Morning everyone.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Seeney and the new Treasurer, Tim Nicholls, took an early decision that struck a blow to Palmer’s Galilee project.
JEFF SEENEY: We’re just going to a meeting to talk about what we need to do to hit the ground running.
MARIAN WILKINSON: At Abbot Point, the Newman government cut back the number of coal terminals planned by Bligh, saying they were financially unviable and environmentally fraught.
Hancock-GVK had by now already secured their terminal at Abbot Point, as had another Indian developer, Adani. But Palmer had not and now had slim prospect of getting one. He was furious.
CLIVE PALMER: The government was saying hey, don’t develop; we’re going to let these Indian guys develop exclusively and even though you’ve got your plans and even though they’re not any way associated with them, you’ll affect them in the market so we’re going to stop you competing.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Deputy Premier Seeney refused to be interviewed by Four Corners about Palmer’s claims but has repeatedly said Palmer was treated fairly.
JEFF SEENEY: This is all about a billionaire that hasn’t been able to get his way with out government.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Clive Palmer sued the Queensland Government over the Abbot Point decision. A judge rejected his case. But a stream of internal government documents about the Galilee had been released. And they show Hancock coal and GVK lobbying the government intensely.
In one email a Queensland official warns his federal counterpart:
VOICEOVER (reading email): “I expect Hancock will be lobbying heavily to obtain their approval from you once our report is finalised; they have a direct line to the new government…they came in with 22 experts to “discuss” the proposed conditions.”
MARIAN WILKINSON: Premier Newman also refused to be interviewed by four Corners about Palmer. But he told local ABC radio that it was Palmer, not Hancock who lobbied aggressively over the Galilee and other ventures.
CAMPBELL NEWMAN, PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND: Mr Palmer tried to seek preferential treatment from my Government, and we said to him we would welcome investment in this State, whether it be in coal mining or in tourism, and I’d like to elaborate on some of these things. But that he had to follow the due process that everybody else followed. He didn’t like that, and through a number of meetings with people like Jeff Seeney or myself, he increasingly became more strident and agitated. He seemed to want us to do things that just simply are not right.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer was indeed agitated. He could see his billion dollar coal project in jeopardy.
(Sound of Clive Palmer talking to cameras)
MARIAN WILKINSON: Four Corners was told at one point Palmer was asked to leave Seeney’s office after a heated debate.
(Talking to Clive Palmer) Did you try to bully the government?
CLIVE PALMER: Well, first of all that’s just rubbish. I’ve never been thrown out of Jeff Seeney’s office. He wouldn’t have the guts. Certainly that wasn’t an issue. I was there as the chairman of Waratah Coal, employing a lot of Queenslanders, as one of the largest employers in the state, asking why wasn’t my government in Queensland concerned about jobs for Queenslanders?
MARIAN WILKINSON: Did you have an argument with him about it?
CLIVE PALMER: I told him that what he was doing I think was arbitrary and needed to be properly considered…
MARIAN WILKINSON: And what was his response?
CLIVE PALMER: He was just trying to brush it aside, as though it didn’t matter.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Just two months after the election, Seeney announced the first approval for a Galilee basin mine. It was for Hancock-GVK.
JEFF SEENEY: Today I want to report to the house that the Coordinator General has provided approval for Hancock Coal’s Alpha coal mine in the Galilee Basin. This is the first approval for a mine in the Galilee Basin, which when developed will be the biggest in Australia.
MARIAN WILKINSON: A week later, the Government delivered another blow to Palmer. Only two railway corridors in the Galilee would get Government support; one was Hancock GVK’s.
The second was not Palmer’s.
The Government argued Palmer and the other miners could use their competitor’s rail corridor.
Palmer’ relationship with the LNP imploded.
As Palmer saw it, trying to share the Hancock rail corridor would tie up his Waratah Coal company in another lengthy Environmental Impact Statement or EIS.
CLIVE PALMER: It took about four years to get a EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) approval through in Queensland, those at that time. So if we wanted to go on their rail line there wasn’t the capacity within their EIS approval. We would have had to start again and get the area outside it. That’s why, because that wasn’t clear to the public. It was very you know you can go on one corridor, go on the other. That’s not the case.
Even Hancock Coal admits sharing the Galilee rail line is not that simple.
PAUL MULDER: The currently approved line has been specifically applied for our projects only, however that said we have always been open to allowing others to come on. In fact we’ve actually run a open process where the likes of Waratah and others have been invited, so as to express their interest and demonstrate that they have a real project that can come on this rail line and they actually have a port solution.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer argued under the Newman government his Galilee mine had no port solution and no likely access to a rail line from the Galilee. He needed both for the Chinese investors to come on board.
He was angry. And those who knew him well weren’t surprised.
BOB KATTER: I was a raging fury, but in the back of my mind also was the double cross on Clive. They hadn’t been in government very long when that decision was taken, it was almost indecent haste with which they took that decision. And I think a lot of the politics of Australia over the next ten years will be written around that decision.
CAMPBELL NEWMAN: He wanted preferential treatment, he wanted the Palmer railway line, he wanted a deal for him and he wanted special legislation.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Newman is challenging Palmer to go to the state’s anti-corruption body, the CMC with his claims the Hancock-GVK decision was questionable.
CAMPBELL NEWMAN: We have written to the CMC ourselves, not to complain about him, but to essentially to say, investigate us. Mr Palmer seems to have some allegations, we’re sick of him making that allegation. Please go and ask him to put his evidence on the table and investigate us.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer won’t go the CMC. But he won’t let go of his allegations either.
CLIVE PALMER: There was a little bit of disbelief that you could spend so much money and have so much commercial success and find out that someone could do that you know, with one decision.
MARIAN WILKINSON: At least one senior Coalition Minister questions how the feud with Palmer got so destructive for the LNP.
BARNABY JOYCE: I don’t think all the fault lies on Clive’s side and that’s for certain. I think that once this turned into a sort of a quest and a competition of personalities, then logic on both sides quickly disappeared and that always presents problems. And I…
MARIAN WILKINSON: Are you saying there is some fault that lies there with the Queensland Government and how they handled Clive Palmer?
BARNABY JOYCE: The art of politics is to avoid problems and to manage a way around problems. You just don’t keep banging your head against a brick wall and letting more heat come into this issue and build up and build up and build up.
(Sound of Palmer talking to media)
MARIAN WILKINSON: The build up exploded six months after Newman’s election, when Palmer tried to drive a wedge through the LNP to bring down the premier.
(Clive Palmer on Lateline)
CLIVE PALMER: I’ll tell you what, Campbell Newman: they are talking to me. They’re talking to me about you.
They’re talking about Jeff Seeney and the sort of deals he gets up to with business.
God bless democracy because things are going to change, because the public will not put up with this sort of rape on their state.
BARNABY JOYCE: Politics is also the vessel of very strong personalities and ultimately you get the clash of egos, and you get business thrown in and it’s a case of you know, I won’t relent, you won’t relent and, and this, the culmination of that is a new political party.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Facing expulsion from the LNP, Palmer threw his enormous energy into getting his new political party off the ground.
(Clive Palmer talking on Lateline, Brisbane)
CLIVE PALMER: By the end of next week, we’ll be announcing some of our candidates for Federal Parliament. We plan to run in 127 seats in the House of Representatives and all Senate seats. So, there’ll be a good chance for the people of Australia to have a real alternative for a change.
JOHN UTTING, ALP POLLSTER: I think this is quite unique in Australia. But I think it’s a trend that you’re seeing globally, you know, from the rise of Berlusconi in Italy, Thaksin in Thailand and even Mayor Bloomberg in New York. These are people who can easily drop the 10, 12, you know, 13, 14 million dollars into an election campaign and make a real difference. Clive Palmer may not in fact be the exception; he may be the beginning of a rule of how politics in Australia and the west is done in the future.
(Sound of Clive Palmer visiting a mine)
MARIAN WILKINSON: The big millions that underpin Clive Palmer’s political ambitions come from here, in Western Australia’s Pilbara.
CLIVE PALMER (Talking to miners): So what we’ve got here is the port where we are now.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer was paid $415 million up front by CITIC, a Chinese State Owned Enterprise, for rights to mine low grade iron ore at Cape Preston.
CLIVE PALMER: So it’s quite amazing really.
(CITIC Pacific corporate video)
VOICEOVER: Hong Kong based CITIC has purchased the rights to mine 2 billion tonnes of magnetite ore from this area.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The project is today China’s largest ever investment in Australia. And it provides a fascinating insight into Palmer’s business tactics and his real wealth.
CLIVE PALMER (talking to miners): That’s the biggest ball boy in the world.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The project has been dogged by delays and has cost CITIC $7 billion.
No ore has yet been shipped. And Palmer is now in a poisonous legal dispute with CITIC over future royalties.
Palmer’s fury was graphically captured on a voice mail left for a CITIC executive.
(Voice mail message – courtesy: The Australian)
CLIVE PALMER: I am chairman of this fucking company. I don’t want to ring up little shits like you ’cause you won’t pay your bloody rates or pay your rent. I’ve had enough of you. So pack up all your fucking gear and get back to China.
CLIVE PALMER: The reality of it is that they owe us $700 million they don’t want to pay, that they’re legally entitled to it and they don’t wanna do it. The real story here is not so much about me or us, but it’s whether state owned companies owned by the Chinese government, not companies that are as we know them, private enterprise companies, can come to Australia, cannot pay their bills.
(Talking to miners) It all goes into the crusher…
MARIAN WILKINSON: CITIC argued in court the royalty dispute escalated when Palmer sought an injunction to throw CITIC off the billion dollar mine all together.
(Voice mail message – courtesy: The Australian)
CLIVE PALMER: Just to re-cap with you: we are not changing the royalty rate for you at all. Tell your tenement to stick it up his arse, okay? Tell your chairman to stick it up his arse. You people give me the shits and if you continue to not pay your way, we’re going to throw you off completely and close your project down.
MARIAN WILKINSON: CITIC Pacific’s President, Zhang Jijing, would not be interviewed on camera. But in a rare public statement Mr Jijing says Palmer’s:
VOICEOVER (Zhang Jijing statement): “Obstructive legal behaviour is unhelpful and it’s likely to delay resolution of the royalty claims.”
MARIAN WILKINSON: He rejected Palmer’s claims that a court ordered mediation could see Palmer’s company get $500 million or more in the near future.
VOICEOVER (Zhang Jijing statement): “If Mr Palmer was accurately quoted, we find this claim to be highly presumptuous and do not know the basis for it.”
MARIAN WILKINSON: CITIC executives are stunned by Palmer’s aggressive tactics.
(Talking to Clive Palmer) So you don’t think that you bully people?
CLIVE PALMER: Well, not at all, you know. How do you bully the Chinese government that executes 500,000 people a year, has a standing army of three, three million Chinese, is a nuclear power? I mean really Clive Palmer’s not that tough is he?
MARIAN WILKINSON: In a veiled warning, CITIC’s president told Four Corners its dealings with Palmer would be noted by other Chinese investors.
VOICEOVER (Zhang Jijing statement): “It’s our view that Mr Palmer’s behaviour and Mineralogy’s litigious approach will be closely examined by the wider business community. As part of due diligence, naturally we would expect prospective Chinese investors in Mr Palmer’s other interests to take a close look at our experiences.”
MARIAN WILKINSON: (talking to Clive Palmer) And you’re not worried this will…
Palmer is unfazed by such warnings.
CLIVE PALMER: You have to understand that people don’t invest out of love. I get married out of love, I have children out of love, people buy things because they need them, they invest because it’s best for them, they don’t invest for charity. The Chinese are not in Australia for a free handout or for charity and we don’t wanna be frightened about them. They’re here ’cause it’s in their interest.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer’s epic war over his iron ore royalties has left question marks over his fortune. But when the federal election was called, Palmer spared no expense to bankroll the Palmer United Party campaign.
(Clive Palmer posing for cameras in front of his plane)
(Talking to Clive Palmer) What sort of budget did you have to spend on the campaign?
CLIVE PALMER: I can’t tell you the exact figure, but it would have been somewhere between $8 and $12 million we spent, totally on everything. That would have been established in the party doing everything. The Liberals would have spent about $54 million, and Labor probably you know, not much more than us.
(Campaign music for Clive Palmer; ‘Eye of the Tiger’, crowd clapping)
CLIVE PALMER: Men and women of Australia, we meet today in a country known for its strengths, among people known for their resilience, we find our nation in need of both; strength and resilience.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The launch of PUP (Palmer United Party) was widely viewed in the media with ridicule.
(Palmer on the Kyle and Jackie O show)
KYLE SANDILANDS: You probably don’t know what twerking is?
CLIVE PALMER: Well I can twit. But I don’t know if I can twerk.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But Palmer’s huge advertising budget fed a media circus. And suddenly the PUP was a real political animal snapping at the Coalition.
(Clive Palmer twerks)
KYLE SANDILANDS: Get down, get down low. Hold onto the table if you need to.
JACKIE O: Go on Clive, come on.
KYLE SANDILANDS: He’s twerking! He’s doing it! That’s the man that should be running the country. He can twerk.
JOHN UTTING: Disaffected voters were coming across to Clive. A lot of them were then coming back to us on our preference. So in fact what he was doing was muting, especially in Queensland, the conservative swing.
MARIAN WILKINSON: (Talking to Clive Palmer) Who was your brains trust?
CLIVE PALMER: Just me…that’s it. [laughs]
JOHN UTTING: We were looking at him across a basket of sort of tracking seats, and his numbers went up from about one, one and a half, you know, right up to about this four, five per cent. So they really sort of powered on in the last week.
(Clive Palmer on the ‘Today Show’, Channel 9)
CLIVE PALMER: Lift your game mate, get into a national thing.
MARIAN WILKINSON: When Murdoch’s News Limited targeted Palmer, he retaliated with buffoonery.
CLIVE PALMER: Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendy Deng is a Chinese spy! And that’s been right across the world! She’s been spying on Rupert for years, giving money back to Chinese intelligence.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer played the clown.
KARL STEFANOVIC: That’s a lie, you’ve lost the plot.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But he also wanted to hit back at Murdoch personally. He emailed the Wendi Deng claims to PUP’s one million strong mailing list.
CLIVE PALMER: Be careful of Rupert, he might take over your station.
MARIAN WILKINSON: You think the response of putting out the Wendy Deng story was fair enough?
CLIVE PALMER: I think so. If someone’s going to attack my family and my integrity, let them be attacked too. I’m waiting for the defamation proceedings from Rupert Murdoch. I’m more than happy to go to court to defend myself and I don’t know what’s, what’s holding him up, but those lawyers in New York, they’re pretty slow.
(Channel 7 news)
CLIVE PALMER: Well we think we’ll win the seat of Fairfax without any problems.
MARIAN WILKINSON: On election night Palmer was not only a winner, he had dragged down the Coalition vote in Queensland.
(Channel 7 election results)
TV COMMENTATOR: Which is a remarkable result.
JOHN UTTING: Basically the overall very roughly, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives he collected about five across the whole country. In Queensland…
MARIAN WILKINSON: Five per cent?
JOHN UTTING: Yeah. In Queensland the figures were twice that, they were roughly about ten per cent. So he really outperformed the national average quite strongly in Queensland. And as you move into those regional bits of Queensland, you know north of Brisbane, inland and along the coast, you know, as you can see in the seat, he got up to around 24, 25 per cent.
CHANNEL 7 COMMENTATOR: I’m looking forward to reading your pecuniary interests file when you go into parliament; I think that’s going to be a fascinating reading for all of us. How many dinosaurs are you going to register?
CLIVE PALMER: Well we’ve got 160 dinosaurs at our park and I’m sure if you come up, one of them would be glad to eat you.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But Palmer’s new political power is not a joke. Especially because he’s still dealing with his business ambitions.
(Sound of live music)
MARIAN WILKINSON: During the election campaign the Queensland government quietly announced Palmer’s Galilee coal mine had been approved for development.
Palmer’s rail corridor was also approved. But crucially he still has no port to ship his coal.
CLIVE PALMER: It was an approval for our mine and our rail corridor, not for a port. So if you’ve got a coal project, you’ve got to be able to export your coal, so they knew commercially that I couldn’t do anything with that, but it made the appearance that I could.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But Palmer is a step closer to his Galilee goal. The approvals include the go-ahead to cut down much of Bimblebox.
The news was a blow to Paola Cassoni and other graziers here. They fear five huge mines now planned in the Galilee, including Palmers, will seriously threaten their water supply.
The mines are expected to use up to 70 billion litres of water a year.
(Graziers seated at a table)
PAUL ANDERSON: We’re concerned about our underground water, um if we haven’t got underground water our cattle can’t, they die. And that’s our business.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The Anderson and Currie families are already fighting the Hancock-GVK coal mine in the Queensland land court and now they will likely have to fight Palmer.
JANEICE ANDERSON: You can’t run a cattle business without water. So if we didn’t have the ground water supply we would be rendered unviable.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Despite new federal water laws designed to protect graziers, they believe they have little power against big players like Palmer.
ANNETTE CURRIE: If we lose our water, what is Clive Palmer gonna do? If someone said to his wife, possibly in two years time when that mine kicks in down the road from you, you’re gonna lose your house, you’re gonna lose your family structure, you’re gonna lose your passion, and you’re gonna lose your viability, how would she feel? And how would her family feel?
MARIAN WILKINSON: Tellingly, when questioned about the grazier’s fears over their water, Clive Palmer responded not like a politician, but like the mining developer he still is.
(Talking to Clive Palmer) Will you make a commitment to talk to those landowners?
CLIVE PALMER: Well we, we’re available to talk to people all the time and we’ve got agreements with most of the people out there and we work with them very cooperatively. Of course we’ve just come through a public scrutiny area where our BIS was open for comments and each one of those comments was dealt with and comments were made to people and that’s our normal process, so of course we’ll talk to anyone.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The blurring of Palmer’s business and political ambitions will come into sharp focus at the next Queensland election.
Palmer’s party, known as the United Australia Party here, has the Newman Government squarely in its sights.
ALEX DOUGLAS MP, THE UNITED AUSTRALIA PARTY: We’ve done it once in this outing. Wait and see what we do the second time.
MARIAN WILKINSON: The state leader, MP Alex Douglas, is another defector from the LNP. And he believes they will attract big numbers of LNP supporters.
ALEX DOUGLAS: What’s actually happened is the Government, with a core of the LNP currently, have moved away from their supporters. So the supporters will just move towards, I believe yes, they will move towards us. And I think actually today even, we’re seeing huge groups of them.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Douglas insists the party and Palmer can handle his conflicts of interest.
ALEX DOUGLAS: I think that he probably he can change his life in such a way that he can manage all these things. It is going to be difficult, but he can probably switch things into whatever to, to make these businesses work and all that sort of stuff. I think he can contribute. I’m sure, I’m certain he can.
(Sound of dinosaur on gold course)
MARIAN WILKINSON: But Palmer’s decision to christen his giant dinosaur Jeff, after Queensland’s Deputy Premier, suggests he still has a personal interest in taking on the state government, even if he denies it.
CLIVE PALMER: I’m not fixated with Jeff Seeney or Campbell Newman. They might worry about me every day but I hardly think about them. They’re not that significant in my life.
(Clive Palmer talking to media)
CLIVE PALMER: The problems we have in Australia, the problems…
MARIAN WILKINSON: Labor Party pollster, John Utting, sees Palmer’s ultimate strategy as splitting the LNP vote in Queensland to woo the old National Party supporters over to him.
CLIVE PALMER: Balance of power in the Senate…
JOHN UTTING: Look, I think the LNP has got really big issues on the back of Clive Palmer in Queensland. The reality is there is this new party which is effectively a Nat Party rebirthing. I think that the LNP sort of campaign managers are going to have a very big issue in a year or year and a half’s time in the state election, on the fact that Clive Palmer and the PUP people could probably take 10, maybe even more, 15 per cent of the votes straight out of them.
MARIAN WILKINSON: Palmer now has a national platform to play out his strategy.
By next July his party will likely sway the balance of power in the Senate.
(Clive Palmer walking out to media)
CLIVE PALMER: Right, everybody ready?
MARIAN WILKINSON: For Palmer it’s just the beginning.
CLIVE PALMER: We’ll have three senators and the balance of power in the coming Parliament. We hope to use that correctly.
MARIAN WILKINSON: But his old allies say the maverick Palmer lacks one essential political skill for success: the ability to share power.
CLIVE PALMER: Alright thanks very much, all the best.
BARNABY JOYCE: All political parties can’t rely on a on sort of a cult status. They they don’t last in Australia. Pauline Hanson had, you know, a party that became a sort of a cult status; it rose quickly and fell quickly.
If they actually set up an organisation that has authority that has the capacity to take the direction, and then you become merely one player and as part of it of a general body, then it will succeed.
MARIAN WILKINSON: What do you think Clive Palmer will do and is capable of doing?
BARNABY JOYCE: I can’t see Clive divesting power to anybody.
(Clive Palmer getting into a car)
MARIAN WILKINSON: For Palmer to divest power he will need to put his party’s interests above his own.
CLIVE PALMER: Are you coming Annie?
MARIAN WILKINSON: If he fails to do this, his Palmer United Party will be in danger of becoming a short lived cult of Clive.
KERRY O’BRIEN: So there’s the question, will this PUP grow up and reach maturity? The next political test for Clive Palmer and his party will be the prospect of a re-run of the disputed election for new Western Australian senators. It’s likely to be conducted early next year, and also the Tasmanian election next march.
That’s the program for tonight and the year, from all of us at Four Corners, may your summer be bountiful in good ways and we look forward to your company again in the year new.
Until then, good night.