PM-Palmer stoush no comfort to creditors
A war of words between the prime minister and Clive Palmer has done little to ease the minds of Queensland Nickel’s creditors, particularly sacked workers.
Malcolm Turnbull called the federal MP’s management of the company “shocking” on Friday ahead of its creditors’ first meeting with administrators after 237 workers were axed from the Yabulu refinery a fortnight ago.
In response, a defiant Mr Palmer claimed both major political parties were out to ruin his political career.
“Is this guy (the prime minister) really serious?” he told AAP on Friday.
“All this does, with Turnbull making these statements, is demonstrate, absolutely, that this is a political witch hunt.”
The political stoush was of little assistance to Richard Devow, who lost his job while supporting six children, a partner and a terminally ill mother.
Mr Devow says retrenched workers just want their entitlements, which Mr Palmer insists are not his responsibility.
He says it’s difficult to explain how he feels about the mining magnate.
“All he worries about is his money,” he told AAP before the Townsville meeting.
More than 500 people, most of them creditors owed a total of about $100 million, attended the three-hour meeting.
Queensland Nickel voluntary administrator FTI Consulting’s John Park told reporters the company had enough cash to operate until April 30.
After that a cash injection “in the tens of millions of dollars” would be required, he said.
He also said the Queensland government would likely end up footing the bill for expensive environmental clean-ups.
Creditors were told during the meeting the government could be in a “huge mess” and taxpayers may ultimately foot the bill if the company went into liquidation.
Australian Workers Union’s Queensland branch secretary Ben Swan told AAP it would be “substantially more than the $40 million quoted in the media”.
An ABC report previously put the cost of the clean-up anywhere between $25 and $40 million, while the federal opposition says it could reach as much as $300 million.
Mr Swan said he would again ask the state government to intervene, after a written plea in December for ministers to consider the clean-up was ignored.
“The Queensland government can’t turn a blind eye here,” he told AAP.
“There’s a very significant risk to government of having to pick up the cost for this.”
Creditors also confirmed the administrators and voted on a representational committee during the meeting.
Mr Devow’s wife, Jolene, described the discussions as a load of “mumbo jumbo”.
But another sacked worker, who wanted to be known only as Kalem, said the meeting had been run well.
“It was good for how long they’d had (to look into the books),” the father-of-two told AAP.
“I’m just trying to remain positive.”
Federal MP Bob Katter attended the meeting and said the state and federal governments should give the company two to three years to find a buyer, with a possible worker buy-out as a solution.
Neither Mr Palmer nor his nephew, Queensland Nickel managing director Clive Mensink, attended the meeting.
Mr Swan said a statement read out on the behalf of creditors failed to mention claims that Mr Palmer has been shadow directing the company, or that substantial donations had been made from Queensland Nickel to his political party.