Wednesday, 18 September 2013

CLIVE: The Story of Clive Palmer by SEAN PARNELL

CLIVE: The Story of Clive Palmer
HarperCollins, 2013, 328 pages, $39.99 (hb)

Review by Phil Shannon

When the local council denied planning permission for the Queensland National Party’s media director, Clive Palmer, to build a sixty-six townhouse development on peaceful rural land in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast in 1984, Palmer’s party and state government mate, Russ Hinze, helped the rich guy out by overturning the council decision.  Shortly after, Palmer made the second largest donation ever to the Nationals, writes Sean Parnell in Clive: The Story of Clive Palmer, “directing $15,000 from his company that had purchased the property”.  Palmer well knew the utility of politics for personal business.

The lure of money governed the business family that Palmer was born into in 1954.  Anti-communist, conservative Catholics, they stamped their son with the same template.  At the University of Queensland in the early 1970s, Palmer took on the campus socialists and feminists, most vigorously through the Right To Life Association and its anti-abortion ‘pregnancy counselling’ front, and he became close to the Liberal and Country Parties and their state government headed by the authoritarian, anti-democratic Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Dropping out of university into a law firm, Palmer’s potential legal career came to a rapid halt when he complained to a Liberal politician of police verballing of suspects which he had uncovered.  An anonymous death threat soon after led to Palmer harbouring a lingering bitterness towards the police-protecting Liberals whilst remaining reliably conservative, and avaricious.

Palmer became a self-made real estate millionaire during Queensland’s interstate-migration-driven property boom on the Gold Coast where he bought cheap and sold dear, a strategy which was to deliver him billions during the mining boom, beginning with iron ore deposits in Western Australia followed by the promise of even richer returns from coal in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

If Palmer, a lavish donor to, and life member of, the National Party thought that he owned the new Queensland Liberal National Party government then he was disillusioned as he ran into a government speed-bump.  His new China-export coal project lost its Labor-ordained ‘significant project status’ when his claim to favoured state support for rail and port infrastructure was out-lobbied by Galilee Basin competitor, Gina Rinehart, and her coal export deal with India.

The taste of sour grapes infused Palmer’s deteriorating relationship with the conservative parties.  His opposition to the new state government’s public sector job cuts was a pretext (he had sacked a hundred workers at his Queensland nickel refinery) for a swipe at a government which had materially harmed his business interests.  Seen as destabilising or splitting the ruling conservative party, Palmer was jettisoned by the Nationals and went on to form his own, eponymous, conservative party.

Lest anyone think that this latest political venture is a merely a continuation of protecting Palmer’s profits and conspicuous consumption (high-end cars and boats and planes, racehorses, soccer clubs, Club Med Resorts, replica Titanics and robotic dinosaurs), Palmer presents a front of selfless generosity through philanthropy and gifts to his employees.

The climate change denialist doesn’t, however, bother with any green camouflage about global warming from his coal exporting, exposure of the Great Barrier Reef to pollution from his nickel refinery’s tailings dam, or the threat to the protected dunes and bush posed by a massive expansion to his luxury resort at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast.

Whilst Palmer can only speak ill of environmentalists, he will hear nothing bad about his former National Party idols and mentors convicted of, or who narrowly dodged, corruption charges for misappropriating taxpayer funds and accepting bribes from developers.  These noble souls (Bjelke-Petersen, Hinze, et al) are, according to  Palmer, persecuted innocents, ‘brave and courageous’ all.  Legal prosecution, however, is a course of first resort for the highly litigious Palmer towards any person or entity which threatens his profits or reputation.

One outcome of Palmer’s legalistic aggression is that voices critical of Palmer are, for fear of being sued and bankrupted, under-represented in Parnell’s book.  The result is an overly benign portrait of Palmer, the celebrity miner-politician, in a book that is fascinated by the “colourful Queenslander’s” every new venture but which is short on analysis of Palmer’s political philosophy, ethical values and social policies, which, like Palmer, offer nothing to those not love-struck by money and power.

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