A nickel ore ship at Townsville, where (inset) Clive Palmer’s Yabulu refinery processes it. Photo: Chris Mackey / Southern Cross Maritime. (Inset: Creative Commons / Benjamin J Macdonald)
State treasurer Curtis Pitt says the state will need access to the books of Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel business before it considers propping up the embattled refinery operation.
Palmer, a federal MP, has asked the Queensland Government for a bailout to avoid the closure of the Yabulu nickel refinery and subsequent sacking of around 800 workers.
His request for government assistance came as his private company Mineralogy lost a multi-million-dollar bid in the WA Supreme Court over royalty payments from former Chinese business partner CITIC.
Now apparently fresh out of cash and ideas, Palmer – a self-proclaimed billionaire – says without government aid, the slumping nickel price threatens to shut his refinery.
But Pitt isn’t buying it.
“If Clive Palmer makes a decision to close the refinery, that would be his decision alone,” the treasurer said on Tuesday.
“The state government has met with Queensland Nickel numerous times to discuss its operating position.
“Now, a few weeks before Christmas, [Palmer has] come back threatening to close the business if the state doesn’t bail him out.”
Pitt criticised “the lateness of [Palmer’s] approach to the Government,” saying it came just months after a public statement from Palmer saying the Yabulu refinery and its workers were financially safe.
The treasurer has insisted on seeing Queensland Nickel’s books before he considers the mining entrepreneur’s demands.
“We need all the facts before the state government can make any decisions,” he said.
“The current state of commodity prices is having a major impact across the resources sector, we acknowledge that, including Queensland nickel.
“Queensland Nickel’s priority first and foremost must be to set aside funds to provide for employee entitlements and we have called on them to meet those obligations.
“The Palaszczuk Government is very aware of the importance of Queensland Nickel to the Townsville region and, as I’ve publicly stated over many weeks, the key consideration for the government in this matter is the interests of Queensland Nickel’s workers.”
Palmer’s Yabulu refinery processes nickel ore imported from New Caledonia.