Townsville workers are voicing their concerns about Clive Palmer’s campaign promises, namely a pledge to pay back Queensland Nickel entitlements to 800 workers who lost their jobs when the refinery closed in 2016. The problem: the money is set to be paid exactly 3 days after the federal elections.
After much speculation, Clive Palmer finally announced his replacement for the Queensland seat of Herbert – ex-rugby league star Greg Dowling. It seems that Palmer abandoned his intentions to contest the seat himself after much resistance from the local Townsville community, which adamantly told Palmer that he simply isn’t welcome.
Dowling, the new UAP candidate, is already involved in controversy after comments he made in Townsville displeased locals; “I’ve been in business [in Townsville] for 10 years and it’s hard. And a lot of people are suffering.”
This rings a tad insensitive as many in Townsville “are suffering”, as Dowling puts it, partly on account of one Mr Clive Palmer. Over 2015-2016 his nickel refinery Queensland Nickel went bankrupt, leaving behind $270m in debts to workers, creditors and the government. Now ASIC is investigating suspicions that Palmer and his nephew Clive Mensink traded while insolvent and mismanaged company funds. Accusations include $115m transferred to various private Palmer companies and his then-party Palmer United Party (PUP). Note that in the table below, all figures are in millions of dollars.
*Courtesy of SUPREME COURT OF QUEENSLAND, REGISTRY: BRISBANE, NUMBER: 6593/17
And residents are taking notice: local QNI workers started a blog, titled Queensland Nickel Leaks, where they wage a war on Palmer’s continuous refusal to pay back his creditors and workers; Palmer has recently offered creditors 10 cents on the dollar on their debts, which the workers find “insulting”.
In mid-April Palmer surprised Townsville with a big announcement; he intends to pay them back their owed-entitlements. Many in Townsville remain suspicious – for one thing, just this March Palmer failed to deliver a pledge he made to Aboriginal communities to donate $100m. What was “hailed as the greatest single act of philanthropy in Australian history” in 2008 turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Then there’s the timing issue – Palmer intends to pay almost 800 workers and their families their due entitlements, but only 3 days after the federal elections, making the announcement stink of an elections ploy to vie for more votes. Voters must wait until AFTER the elections to find our if they will get what they’re owed, and many are left wondering if Palmer will make good on his promise even if not elected. In a sense, this could potentially be viewed as buying votes which is a criminal offence.
Townsville workers didn’t fail to notice the suspicious timing: “I do think that it is tied in with the election because why wouldn’t he [Mr Palmer] pay it back a long time ago?” said former QNI worker Mr Shawn Bramwell.
“There’s a lot of doubt around what Clive Palmer says and what may actually happen, so we would like to see that happen before anyone believes it,” said Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) organiser Peter Dalton. “I would think the voters of Townsville have long memories … I can’t imagine that there would be too many voters in Townsville that would be interested in giving Clive another shot.”
Will Palmer pay his workers or is he playing one more political card? And will his promise be enough to get the Townsville vote? Palmer, for one, seems confident: “We’ll win,” he told reporters on Thursday. Maybe so or maybe not, time will tell.