Clive Palmer will not try to influence Queensland Nickel inquiry, senator says | Australia news
Brian Burston, the former One Nation and now United Australia party senator, says he would consider it a “conflict of interest” and “corruption” if an elected Clive Palmer sought to influence a commonwealth-appointed special purpose liquidator into Queensland Nickel.
Palmer’s Queensland Nickel refinery owed about $300m to creditors, including local businesses and the federal government, when it collapsed in 2016.
The government covered the entitlements of many workers, but it is estimated workers are still owed about $7m.
Palmer declared last month that he would put aside $7m in a fund for workers who lost their jobs in 2016 after the collapse of the Queensland Nickel refinery.
Guardian Australia reported this week that the former employees are being told to sign a document gagging them from making any disparaging comments about Palmer in exchange for receiving the outstanding entitlements.
In 2016, the federal government said it would appoint a special purpose liquidator to maximise the return to the taxpayer.
The then employment minister Michaelia Cash said the government would “use every power at its disposal to ensure the corporate dealings of this joint venture arrangement are thoroughly investigated and responsible company officers are held to account”.
On Thursday Burston told Guardian Australia that if Palmer was elected he would not seek to influence the liquidator.
“It’ll be resolved probably in July [but] I put a lot of conditions on going over to him, his name isn’t on any of the policies the party releases and not doing any favours in terms of his business in parliament,” he told Guardian Australia.
“I would regard such things as a conflict of interest and that’s something you just can’t do, that’s corruption in my view, it’s corrupt conduct and it won’t happen.
“I’ll still be the leader in the Senate and I assure you his business interests will not play a part in decisions we make – I guarantee it – I will not be a party to it ever and if I break that you can hammer me.”
Palmer and his rebadged political party have emerged on the Australian political landscape in the lead up to Saturday’s election by reportedly stumping up upwards of $60m on a relentless, near-omnipresent advertising spend.
The campaign has been dogged by a string of bizarre revelations. Candidates signed contracts requiring them to return $400,000 in election support if they win a seat but subsequently leave the party and read from scripted word-for-word videos decrying the foreign ownership of Australian ports.
The band Twisted Sister is suing Palmer over his use of the band’s hit song We’re Not Gonna Take It, while the man himself spent the last week of the campaign holidaying in Fiji.
But what does Palmer actually want?
Other than a few 15-second advertisements and detail-light speeches, the mining billionaire, occasional Titanic II enthusiast and reported ower of about $7m in unpaid entitlements to workers from his collapsed Queensland Nickel refinery has offered little insight into what he would do if he were returned to parliament after Saturday.
The policy section of the UAP’s website runs to 177 words, and includes vague commitments such as “a strong position on paid political lobbyists, saving tax payers dollars and introducing fair policies”.
The party has also said it wants to introduce a $150 a week increase in the age pension, promised “fast trains” to capital cities within one hour from 300km away, and says it wants Australia to begin generating nuclear power.
How it would fund such commitments is unclear, and emails and calls to the party have gone unanswered this week.
But Burston, who defected to the UAP after falling out with the One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, admitted the party would “have a bit to do” in planning how to introduce its commitments if it was in a position to enact them.
He said the party’s push for nuclear energy would see “about eight to 10” nuclear power stations built down the east coast of Australia run by “probably both” the government and private companies. In the meantime, he said he would support a government underwriting a new coal-fired power station “if we can’t get the private sector to fund it”.
On lobbying, Burston said he wanted to see a ban on ex-politicians acting as lobbyists and thought a national integrity commission or federal Icac was “perhaps not a bad idea”.
Such a ban, he said, could potentially extend to former political advisers too, though “how far down the line you go with that will have to be looked at”. So too would the role in-house lobbyists, who largely operate without scrutiny or transparency in federal parliament and are not on the lobbyist register.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” he said.
On refugee policy the UAP’s website says it would revise current policy to “ensure Australia is protected and refugees are given opportunities for a better future and lifestyle”.
In his maiden speech in 2016 Burston said Australia was being “swamped” by immigrants, that multiculturalism creates an “ethnic hierarchy” and that Australia should “discriminate by cultural and religious identity in selecting migrants and refugees”.
However, he stood by his characterisation of the country being “swamped” by migrants, and said the country should have a zero net migration policy “until our infrastructure catches up”.
However, he said he supported the party’s push for onshore refugee processing, saying claims would be decided “within a week” under a UAP government.
On the pension increase, Burston said he wasn’t sure how much the commitment would cost the budget, but admitted it would be “phased in” across the forward estimates. He said he also supported lowering the retirement age back to 60.
“It’ll be a considerable [cost] but I think the welfare and health of our aged pensioners who have contributed all their life are entitled to an income that lifts them out of poverty. I don’t care really what it costs and I think a lot of people in Australia would be happy to see something like it happen,” he said.
Under a so-called zonal tax plan put forward by the UAP, communities living 200km away from a capital city will pay 20% less tax than the cities. The party says the policy would encourage decentralisation.
Burston said it would in fact be a rebate because a preferential tax system “is not constitutional” but said the cost of the policy could be offset by other areas including foreign aid.
“There would be some impost on the budget but it would also stimulate regional areas and that cost can be adjusted in different areas to balance out, for example foreign aid where we’re spending billions,” he said.
“I’m not suggesting that’s what will be done but if you’re going to stimulate regional areas and not let them die as they are dying then you have to do something.”