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Who Is the Real Clive Palmer?

As auditors dissect the finances of Queensland Nickel, and tear up the last of Palmer's reputation, it's becoming clear we never knew the guy at all. Who is he? And what just happened?

by Lee Zachariah
14 April 2016, 12:00am

Illustration by Ben Thomson.

When self-proclaimed billionaire and mining tycoon Clive Palmer entered federal politics, Australia scrambled for an appropriate parallel. Was he Australia's Boris Johnson, the unpredictable uncle who seems perfectly affable from a distance—so long as you don't listen to what he actually has to say? Or was he our Charles Foster Kane, a businessman who chases pricey vanity projects and fancies himself leader?

Now we have another name: Terry Smith—the shadowy figure siphoning millions from Palmer's embattled Queensland Nickel (QN) to fund the miner's other aspirations: Titanic II, dinosaur parks, and being taken seriously as a politician. ABC's Four Corners program is reporting that Palmer disguised himself as this "Terry Smith" to use the ailing company as his personal "piggy bank."

All up, auditors have revealed this week that QN sunk around $224 million into Palmer's side projects, which possibly violates sections of the Corporations Act and is grounds for criminal prosecution. In a best case scenario Palmer now faces a very awkward expulsion from politics. The worst scenario sees him going to prison.

So how did one of Australia's most successful self-made businessmen fall so far? Perhaps it was hubris, a scrappy kid flying too close to the sun. Maybe it was greed—another one of the super rich thinking they are above the law. He always leaves us guessing. So even in what could be the dying days of his time in the spotlight, he leaves us wondering: Who is the real Clive Palmer?

Clive Palmer is John Hammond

This one must always be mentioned up the top, because there is literally no story about Clive Palmer that isn't improved by first establishing the context that he is someone who built a dinosaur theme park. If Clive killed a dozen people at coke-fuelled orgy using a flamethrower, every article about it must still begin with "Dinosaur theme park creator Clive Palmer..."

And although the park itself wasn't, like Hammond's Jurassic Park, an uncontrollable disaster that proved man should not meddle in forces beyond his control—that outcome would be reserved for the Palmer United Party—it was still pretty funny.

Clive Palmer is Donald Trump

No word yet on the length of Clive Palmer's fingers. Image via

Is Clive Palmer really our Donald Trump? Both men have, reportedly, vastly overstated their wealth as they embark upon a self-funded political career, but this one might cut a bit deeper.

ABC's Four Corners reported Monday on the toxic relationship that exists between Palmer and... well, anyone he comes into contact with. Numerous business and political associates reported that Clive would throw tantrums when he didn't get his way. Many of those around him paint a picture of a man who will swear bloody revenge upon those who do not give him what he wants, when he wants it.

Palmer refused to be interviewed for the Four Corners program, but demanded that the show grant him a live interview, something the show simply doesn't do. It was easy to make fun of Clive for failing to understand how the program operates, but with The Simpsons promising a live-to-air component next month, he clearly found inspiration. Once science cracked the code for live animation, a live interview with Clive can't be far away.

But with those closest to Trump quitting and then writing scathing revelations about him, we can easily envision a future in which Trump's cabinet is simply a revolving door of vaguely-recognisable politicians. In less than two years, the Palmer United Party has seen seven members, including Senators Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus, quit the party, with most choosing to sit as independents.

Clive Palmer is Mr Snrub

"Hello, I'm Mr Snrub..." Image via

The biggest revelation from This Week In Clive, and the one that may well bring him down, is the allegation that he had used money from Queensland Nickel to fund basically whatever he felt like at the time, be it property, tourism, politics, or just some vintage cars he liked the look of.

A report from FTI Consulting found that $224.3 million was transferred from Quenesland Nickel to companies connected to Clive Palmer, with $189.3 million of that debt forgiven. ASIC is investigating whether Clive was acting as shadow director of Queensland Nickel, giving out instructions under the name "Terry Smith".

Yes, Clive has a pseudonym.

At first, he claimed that it was simply somebody else's email address that he just used the one time, one of those glorious explanations that raises more questions than it answers. But before we could ask them, Clive then claimed it was actually an account he'd use to communicate with his family. Which is a smart move, considering even Clive's family members would be reluctant to open an email from Clive.

Had Terry Smith not approved all this redistribution, says FTI, Clive's Townsville refinery could have avoided closure. The sacked workers, who are currently owed about $74 million, might still have jobs.

Clive Palmer is Fox Mulder

Fox Mulder dance montage via

Clive has always been a fan of conspiracy theories. In 2012, he said that a Greenpeace plan to stop future coal mining projects was, in truth, a CIA-funded scheme to hurt the Australian economy. A CIA spokesperson, perhaps not aware that bothering to refute Clive's claims is really not worth the effort, responded with an effective "uh, no." But then they would say that, wouldn't they?

Four Corners replayed another vintage clip, in which Clive was dismissing negative poll numbers as being part of a big conspiracy: "And of course, you know who writes the Galaxy Poll, don't you? Rupert Murdoch from New York. He writes it, he texts it. He sends it across and says, "No, no, don't let anyone know I've done it, you know. Ah... You know." Maybe nobody realises because Rupert's texting this under the name Terry Smith.

But what makes Clive think polls can be rigged? Turns out he's done it himself, claiming to have pressed his thumb on the scales during his time as Queensland Liberal National Party director. "When I was a former party director, there were polling companies that I used to give large donations to and they'd write the results."

Is this true? It doesn't matter. Clive being so paranoid that he has a conspiracy theory about himself is hard to beat.

Clive Palmer is President Richard Nixon

It's not illegal if the president/member for Fairfax does it. Image via

Remember when David Frost got Nixon to admit that any activities he was involved with while he was President were legal because anything the President does is by definition above the law? Sure you do. It was in a movie you didn't watch either.

When Clive was challenged on the Queensland Nickel funds by Channel Seven's Sunrise, he responded: "I don't know how you spend your money that you get paid by Channel Seven, but that's my money. That's what we live in a free society, and people have the right to spend their money as they see fit."

He's right. That is what we live in a free society, whatever that means. But it also means that Clive considers money he is able to control as his once he gifts it to himself. Allegedly.

Clive Palmer is James Cameron

Two men, one boat. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

If every story about Clive Palmer is compelled to begin with a reference to his dinosaur theme park, then they must also end with a reference to the fact that he wants to build the Titanic II, the most ill-fated naming of a follow-up since Hitler smashed a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape across Poland and christened his new thing "World War II."

Although it would be better to compare Clive to someone who was behind the actual Titanic, can you – without Googling – actually name anyone responsible? No. The most famous name behind the Titanic is James Cameron, and given he's the only person who was able to make a success out of that name, we're going to assume that's who Clive is trying to emulate.

And guess what? Queensland Nickel also reportedly gave a mysterious contribution to Clive's Titanic II project. Maybe they're hoping he'll build it out of nickel. Nickel floats, right?

Either way, if Clive loses his seat and faces criminal charges, then orchestrating a getaway on a Titanic—even one doomed to sink—probably seems like his best option right now.

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