Despite losing vast amounts of his personal wealth, any remaining dregs of respect, traction in the polls, and his beloved dinosaur park Palmersaurus, Clive Palmer came out of 2015 with one big win: He was Australia's largest political donor.
Between 2014-2015, Palmer dropped almost $10 million on one cause close to his heart, his Palmer United Party (PUP). Thanks to Mr Palmer's generosity PUP received more political donations than the Australian Labor Party, and was only a few hundred thousand short of the Liberal Party.
Data released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which keeps track of all political donations over $12,100, shows that PUP received $9.78 million in donations from four Palmer-owned companies: Mineralogy, Queensland Nickel, Palmer Coolum Resort, and Palmer Leisure.
Queensland Nickel was the largest donor to the tune of $5.95 million, despite being more than $110 million in debt. At least $30.8 million of this money is owed to current and former staff, 237 of which were fired as the company went under earlier this year. Palmer has refused calls for PUP to return these political donations, which would go some way to repaying these workers.
The question here isn't why Clive Palmer would funnel money from his struggling company into his political ambitions, it's why management at Queensland Nickel would let this happen. Their job is to act in the interest of the company's creditors, not help its eccentric owner in his quest for power.
A look at the CV of the company's managing director Clive Mensick might offer one explanation. He has served as director for nearly all of Palmer's companies, including Palmer Leisure, Mineralogy and Australasian Resources Ltd, which was suspended from the ASX in 2014 for failing to publish its financials. Also, he's Clive Palmer's nephew.
When Palmer was first elected to politics in 2013, he stepped down as Queensland Nickel's company director, taking on more of a "supervisory role." He says that because of this move he's not responsible for paying the workers out or covering company debts. At the same time, the PUP boss has spent months lobbying the Queensland government for a guarantee on a $30 million bank loan for Queensland Nickel, acting as the company's spokesperson.
However, if the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) has its way Palmer may still have to pay up. The group is calling for an investigation into just how "hands off" Palmer has been interacting with Queensland Nickel. If the mining magnate has been more involved than he's let on, Palmer may still be personally responsible for paying back its workers.
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