Something is off in Australian state politics. Over the course of a week, Clive Palmer-related news hit one after the other, showing signs that the mining tycoon and billionaire may be looking to interfere in both state and federal politics, for motives yet unknown.
First, Greg Dowling, former Queensland State of Origin rugby player, announced his mayoral candidacy for the city of Townsville on January 15th. Dowling contested the seat of Herbert in the 2019 federal elections for Palmer’s UAP but insisted at first that Palmer has not granted him financial backing. But by January 31st, it became quite clear that this wasn’t the case – on January 13th, 14th and 23rd, 3 donations were made from Palmer companies to Dowling’s campaign.
These donations totalled $502,833.33, and not $100,000 as first reported.
Making unemployment his main platform, Dowling said that “Lack of jobs is a major problem with youth unemployment running at a staggering 18 per cent”. Townsville residents, many of which have been direly and directly impacted by Palmer’s Queensland Nickel collapse, did not miss the irony in a Palmer-backed candidate discussing the lack of jobs.
Then, on January 27th, it was revealed that Queensland’s Liberal National Party president David Hutchinson took a job as a “property advisor” with Palmer’s Mineralogy. Hutchinson was pivotal in securing Palmer’s preference deal with the Liberals in the federal elections. In 2019, Palmer spent over $60m to give the Liberals the win and, plausibly, advancing his businesses. It has now been 8 months since that detrimental preference deal which “polarized the voters” (according to Palmer), and voters were outraged, seeing a connection between that deal and Hutchinson’s new job.
QLD Premier Palaszczuk said Mr Hutchinson’s job showed that “the LNP and Clive Palmer are closely now embedded together”. “I think it’s very blurry between business and politics when it comes now to the LNP and Clive Palmer,” she added.
“There is a lot of concern about this in my electorate. Mr Palmer has hurt a lot of people here,’’ said Sunshine Coast MP Fiona Simpson. In the Sunshine coast, 600 people lost their jobs as Palmer shut down the Coolum Resort indefinitely.
Federal LNP MPs, speaking anonymously, raised similar concerns, claiming that “The members are disgusted. It is compromising the party and needs to be cleaned up” and that Mr Palmer was “buying up” the senior ranks of the party organisation. “Does the LNP stand for Liberal National Palmer? How can you take money from Palmer and still be president of the party?’’ another MP said.
But there was more; On January 30th, a meeting between Dowling and Hutchinson was reported in The Townsville Bulletin, proving that the stories of Dowling and Hutchinson are connected. Hutchinson denied that his meeting with Dowling in Townsville was about politics, but the timing seems extremely suspicious.
Several days later, February brought another infamous figure into the Townsville story – Palmer’s nephew and United Australia Party member Martin Brewster. Brewster announced he will be running for a place on Townsville’s city council on Dowling’s team, confirming that Dowling is a Palmer candidate. Brewster has worked as a manager in Queensland Nickel, and his personal LinkedIn still lists him as “Procurement Director at Queensland Nickel Sales”.
Brewster has also made several trips to Bulgaria with Palmer to see their fugitive relative, Clive Mensink, QNI manager and director at the time of its collapse and subsequent liquidation. Mensink is still escaping ASIC and the Australian judicial system, despite several warrants issued for his immediate return to Australia to testify and face possibly criminal investigation.
Palmer has also apparently set eyes on the WA state elections in 2021; an article published in late 2019 hinted he was considering contesting WA Parliament seats, or perhaps the role of Premier. After a secret meeting with Mathias Cormann, Liberal Minister of Finance, in Perth, it seems Palmer is in fact looking for political connections and power anywhere he has business. In Queensland; the Queensland Nickel Refinery and 3 proposed mines in the Galilee Basin. In WA; the Pilbara’s Sino Iron.
The Courier Mail has been very clear about its interpretation of this chaotic Palmer situation; His involvement in Queensland politics, and his contribution to Dowling’s campaign (the biggest in Queensland history) signifies that he “is set to play a pivotal role in this year’s state election”.
It seems that despite the lessons learned in the 2019 federal elections, Australia is still allowing Palmer to meddle in its politics. Palmer’s huge donations and ads campaigns, which in 2019 came to over $60m, could buy the billionaire overwhelming control over the city of Townsville. Why the public or our regulators would allow this remains a mystery.