Queensland Nickel

Clive Palmer owns and operates the Queensland Nickel refinery at Yabulu, Queensland. In 2009 the company was purchased by Clive Palmer from BHP Billiton, and was, by Palmer’s own account, “profitable”. 9 years on, nearly 1000 of us workers have lost their jobs due to Palmer’s relentless pillaging – whilst millions are owed to the creditors he took for a ride.

So, how did it happen?


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2009

When BHP sold the refinery in 2009, it was rumored to be due to the massive cost of restoring it to an “undisturbed state” – an environmental term for cleaning up the site to the state it was initially found in, something which, as time unfortunately has shown, wasn’t of much concern to Mr. Palmer.

Clive was hailed by the press and public alike as the man who had saved Queensland Nickel as well as nearly one thousand worker’s livelihoods from collapse.

2010

His Townsville hero status was further enforced by giving Mercedes Benz vehicles to around 50 workers, with overseas holidays to many more in what was a profitable year due to a recovery in the nickel price. Unfortunately for the workers of Queensland Nickel, however, the next few rounds of gifts would go to the King himself, and they wouldn’t stop until there was nothing left.

First up on Palmer’s wish list was the Avica Resort – a wedding chapel/resort. Palmer purchased the resort in May 2010 for $11,550,000 via Queensland Nickel.

Better yet, and marking the beginning of Palmer’s Project Pillage, the funds used to purchase the resort were explicitly held for the purpose of Queensland Nickel’s joint venture agreement – which outlines, in detail, the purposes for which Queensland Nickel’s funds can be used. As you may have guessed, buying a resort is not, in fact, a listed purpose for the distribution of a nickel refinery’s cash.

2011

Never one to be held back by the confinements of the law, Palmer wasn’t fazed by his potential violations of Queensland Nickel’s own JVOC agreement, or the Corporations Act for that matter. Next on his list was the Hyatt Regency Coolum Resort (of course now called: The Palmer Coolum Resort).

In July 2011, Clive Palmer, through Queensland Nickel, purchased the resort from Lend Lease Corporation and Sekisui House Australia. The resort and the related entity, Coeur De Lion Investments, was acquired for $8,100,000.

It did not stop there.

Queensland Nickel made further payments towards Palmer Leisure Coolum to the tune of $58,900,000 throughout its lifetime – a testament to the manner in which Clive saw Queensland Nickel: merely as a personal piggy bank.

With Project Pillage in full swing, August 2nd marked the launch of Clive’s very own property acquisition vehicle: Palmer Leisure Australia. To celebrate, Queensland Nickel was made to transfer $40,000,000 to the newly found company, funding the purchase of: The Robina Woods golf course – now Palmer Gold Coast, The Colonial golf course – now the Palmer Colonial, and The Sea Temple Golf and Country Club – now Palmer Sea Reef.

2012

Unfortunately for Queensland Nickel, it didn’t take long for the scope and purpose of Clive Palmer looting to broaden somewhat boundlessly. While initially Clive used the company to fund the acquisition of resorts and golf courses, that soon turned into cash sums to individuals as well as organizations, the purchase of luxury goods and essentially anything on his whim.

Between August 2012 and March 2013, Queensland Nickel – which, again, is a Nickel Refinery, purchased 60 vintage cars from both Australian and overseas dealers which were subsequently transported to the Palmer Coolum Resort. The company purchased the vintage cars with funds from its bank accounts totaling $5,007,000.

In fact, On November 29th 2012, Clive Palmer went on a $43,000,000 spending spree courtesy of Queensland Nickel. Among the 9 payments he made that day two, totaling $5,500,000 each, were to mysterious women: Bednova Evgenia and Zhenghong Zang.

2012 also marked the first time that Clive Palmer’s syphoning went towards his own political cause.

From December 2012 to January 2016, Palmer donated $4,500,000 to Club De Madrid from Queensland Nickel. According to a report by The Australian, in a clear attempt to prop himself up politically, the funds were donated to the cash strapped Club De Madrid which then promptly created two new organizations, the World Leadership Alliance and the World Economic Council – both of which Palmer was given leadership positions in, and both of which he tried to claim advised the G20.

2013

Clive’s political spending came not-so-coincidentally before the launch of the Palmer United Party (PUP) in 2013. Of course, Queensland Nickel – being a nickel refinery, was made to bankroll Palmer’s narcissistic attempt of capturing the PM’s office.

Palmer personally directed $21,500,000 to PUP from Queensland Nickel throughout its lifetime. To contextualize this colossal amount, in both 2014 and 2015 the amounts Queensland Nickel paid to PUP constituted over 27% of the total donations to all Australian parties. Additionally, the contributions the company made to PUP made up 58% and 61% of the political party’s donations in both 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Better yet, and, in what can only be described as a testament to the manner in which Clive Palmer pillaged Queensland Nickel and violated his ethical duties to the company, Palmer adjusted the purposes of the JVOC agreement in June 2013 – essentially giving himself the ability to dictate every aspect of Queensland Nickel’s operations, without any oversight.

Such resolutions, which Palmer often made in meetings with himself, changed the business of Queensland Nickel from a nickel refinery, to the sole cash cache for Palmer’s web of enterprises – all whilst he was choking the refinery’s maintenance budget to fund it all.

Over the three years from December 2012 to December 2015, Queensland Nickel’s maintenance spend was less than half of what BHP, the previous owner and operator of QNI, had been spending in their last three years of ownership. While BHP had spent approximately $80,000,000 a year on maintenance, under Palmer’s ownership that figure was inordinately reduced to just $39,000,000 per annum.

His actions created a situation conducive to an environmental disaster, which, unsurprisingly, happened a year later.

2014

In 2014, despite prior warnings from both the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage as well as the World Wildlife Fund of pending disaster if action wasn’t taken, the tailings dam at the Refinery overflowed for five consecutive days – by 21 million liters a day. The dam contained high levels of cobalt, ammonia and sulphur.

The spill added to the company’s not-so-environmentally-friendly track record, which includes numerous unauthorized discharges of nitrogen-laden water into the Great Barrier Reef in 2009 and 2011. The discharge in 2011 alone amounted to 516 tones of toxic waste.

The demise of Queensland Nickel, it’s workers and the environment around it is intrinsically linked to Clive Palmer’s pillaging of the company. Never forget that.

In perhaps the most striking illustration of Palmer’s willingness to rapaciously maraud Queensland Nickel, between the 9th of September 2013 and the 24th of February 2014, the company made payments totaling $37,039.34 at Mr. Palmer’s request, to cover his own personal expenses.

What’s most concerning, however, is that it is incredibly difficult to see the benefits that Palmer’s transactions, which were reckless and used to fund ridiculous ventures, conferred on Queensland Nickel. These transactions are indicative of Palmer mercilessly putting his own self-interest before the best interests of the company. These transactions are ultimately uncommercial in their nature.

Quite foreseeably, a similar pattern of ransacking materializes when evaluating the way in which Palmer used Queensland Nickel to fund his flagship enterprise, Mineralogy over the years. Between the 28th of November 2014 and the 18th of January 2016, Queensland Nickel paid $2,458,217.94 in professional legal fees incurred by Mineralogy, whilst, cash payments in the sum of $35,285,474.44 were sent to Mineralogy from April 2011 to February 2015.

2015

While Clive Palmer likes to argue that Queensland Nickel is a private company, and hence he can do what he wants with it, that’s unfortunately a version of reality that only exists on Planet Palmer – somewhere far, far away.

In reality, however, Clive Palmer acted as a director of Queensland Nickel and hence, owed particular fiduciary duties to the company. These duties included:

  • To act in good faith and with fidelity to the interests of Queensland Nickel
  • To prefer the interests of Queensland Nickel over that of his own interests
  • Not to place himself in a position of conflict with the interests of Queensland Nickel

The transfers and payments Clive made:

  • Did not act with fidelity to the interests of Queensland Nickel
  • Did not prefer the interests of Queensland Nickel over those of his own
  • Quite clearly placed himself in a position of conflict with the interests of Queensland Nickel
  • Had absolutely nothing to do with the purposes of the Joint Venture as described

To summarize the point above: Palmer literally violated each and every one of his duties to the company, screwing us workers, and the creditors of Queensland Nickel in the process.

Not, of course, that Clive Palmer cared much about the creditors he was knowingly taking for a ride. After Queensland Nickel’s request for an overdraft facility got rejected by ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Suncorp and Westpac (i.e. literally every major financial institution in the country), the company became wholly unable to pay off their debts when they were due.

Hence, from no later than the 9th of October 2015, the company seemingly became insolvent. This is rather surprising, given that after that date, the company continued to incur debts in the amount of $13,430,411.60 – before finally going into liquidation over 3 months later.

To contextualize this: Queensland Nickel continued to incur debts when they literally knew that there was no way of ever paying back the creditors who were providing them with goods and services under the very rational assumption that they would, in fact, be paid for these goods and services and that they were, in fact, doing business with a solvent enterprise.

2016

And while next on Mr. Palmer’s list of excuses will be that he wasn’t an “official director” of Queensland Nickel, throughout his ownership of the refinery, right up until its collapse, Clive acted as a shadow director of the company – i.e. he acted in a role and performed functions that would otherwise be performed by a director.

He was unshackled in his pillaging of the company, and created an environment in which he was culpable to none. By appointing grossly unqualified members of his family, as well as friends, into executive positions across the board, it’s quite frankly surprising that Queensland Nickel didn’t collapse sooner.

Rather conveniently for the Palmer bunch, as D-Day began to approach they resigned from their positions one-by-one – it’s almost as if they realized that the company collapsed due to their looting, and that whilst they weren’t going to hold each other accountable, the authorities certainly would.

On the 16th of January 2016, Queensland Nickel went into voluntary administration, succumbing to the wounds left by Clive Palmer. FTI Consulting was appointed as the administrators of the company – subsequently launching an investigation which detailed the damage Clive and Co did to what was once the largest employer in the region. Clive Palmer is currently in court over his role in the company’s collapse, and some of his assets have been frozen.

In essence, the story of Queensland Nickel is one of greed, excess and shameless corruption. Clive Palmer and his Cronies pillaged a nickel refinery that once employed one thousand workers to the point that it was brought to its knees. Whilst he continues to sadistically taunt us workers claiming that he is trying to get it reopened, my only hope is that justice prevails.

Every dog has his day, Clive.


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