Clive Palmer says Labor tried to broker preferences as PM distances himself from deal | Australia news


Clive Palmer has contradicted statements from Labor frontbenchers that they were not in the market for preferences, as Scott Morrison insists there is no policy component to the Liberal party’s deal with the controversial businessman.

While Labor went on the offensive on Friday, with Penny Wong characterising the preference tie-up between Morrison and Palmer as “a marriage of convenience between an ad man and a con man”, and Anthony Albanese denying there had been any talks about preferences, declaring that would be a “recipe for chaos”, Palmer told journalists Labor had also been on the hunt for a deal.

Palmer said on Friday he had been approached by Anthony Chisholm, a Queensland Labor senator, at budget time. “He called me on Wednesday when he was with Bill Shorten in central Queensland and he said was it too late to do preferences. It’s not true that I wasn’t approached by the ALP”.

On the hustings in Queensland, where Palmer’s preference flows will help determine the outcome in some marginal seats, Morrison insisted there were no policy deals associated with preference swaps. “None whatsoever”.

The Liberal leader also defended his party’s decision to court his support by saying: “I’m interested in forming a government on the other side of this election. I’m going make sure I do everything I possibly can to ensure that we’re able to form that government.”

With Palmer attempting a political comeback, splashing cash on an advertising blitz and polling in the double digits in some seats, the Australian Workers Union is demanding the businessman produce evidence of $7m he claims he has set aside to repay Queensland Nickel workers.

The AWU’s Queensland secretary, Steve Baker, said it was “unusual” for Palmer to promise to pay workers’ unpaid entitlements but then “delay until after the election”.

“And that makes me suspicious about payment being made,” he told Guardian Australia.

Brian Burston, the United Australia party NSW Senate candidate, told Guardian Australia the $7m had been paid into a trust fund “so [Palmer] no longer has control over that money”.

“The purpose of the trust fund is to pay out the workers and that’s what will happen once applications are made,” Burston said.

Palmer, by text message, said the AWU were “just fools”.

Palmer’s United Australia party also has a chance of winning Senate spots in Western Australia and New South Wales, where One Nation defector Burston tops the ticket.

But Palmer is haunted by demands from all sides of politicsincluding Liberals such as Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton – that he repay the $67m paid by the commonwealth when Queensland Nickel went into liquidation in 2016, and the $7m in other unpaid workers’ entitlements.

Palmer – whose party has spent at least $30m on advertising since September– said he had set aside $7m in a trust fund to pay workers, despite blaming administrators for shutting the Townsville nickel refinery down and dismissing 546 workers.

Queensland Nickel has promised to open applications for unpaid entitlements by 7 May but has warned workers they will not be paid until 21 May, three days after the election.

Asked about the $7m fund, Baker said the union had “no knowledge of whether he’s actually done that or not”.

He said Palmer had “given the union nothing” by way of evidence and he was “suspicious” because the AWU would have no way to compel payment if Palmer had a change of heart.

“We’re all in a bit of a quandary,” Baker said, calling on Palmer to show evidence the $7m had been set aside. “The government paid about $67m of the workers’ entitlements to people who had 10 years’ service or more. Those with less than 10 years missed out, and that equates to about $7m, so in my view it would pay for the ones that missed out.

“But at the end of the day [Queensland Nickel] still owes about $74m and I expect the receivers will go after that.”

Queensland Nickel is embroiled in two major court actions: one federal court case in which the commonwealth is attempting to recoup the $67m it paid workers under the fair entitlements guarantee; and the second brought by special purpose liquidators in the Queensland supreme court chasing $200m paid by Queensland Nickel to Palmer and related entities before it went into liquidation. The second case is set to be heard from 15 July.

In a statement, the special purpose liquidator Stephen Parbery welcomed Palmer’s comments “purporting” to commit to repay $7m in outstanding entitlements and called on him to make the payment “immediately”.

“However, it is disappointing that Mr Palmer’s offer to at long last redress the employees has taken over three years and hasn’t been extended to the small businesses located in the Townsville region.

“Instead, Mr Palmer has been offering payments that can only be described as paltry to the affected small businesses in the Townsville area.”

In April 2018, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission charged Palmer for an alleged breach of the criminal code arising from a proposed takeover of the President’s Club Ltd, the villa timeshare scheme at his Sunshine Coast resort.

In January, Palmer lost a bid to have the criminal charges thrown out. The case returns to the Brisbane magistrates court for a pre-trial hearing on 28 June.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a fine of $11,000. A conviction could prevent Palmer taking a seat in parliament because section 44(ii) disqualifies anyone convicted and under sentence for a crime punishable by one year in prison or longer.



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