Clive Palmer Votes To Reduce Tax On Own Companies

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A billionaire, who runs several large mining combinations, is denied an important approval for a coal port on Queensland’s coast.

Enraged, he turns on the political party he has bankrolled for years, and starts his own party. Backed by millions of dollars of advertising, and enjoying blanket media coverage encouraged by the canny antics of its founder, the new party secures a significant minority of the vote in the 2013 federal election.

The billionaire gets himself elected to the House of Representatives, and three of his candidates in the Senate are elected.

Once in office, the billionaire finds himself with the balance of power in the upper house. He uses that influence to effectively take control of the government’s legislative agenda. In the process, he votes in the House of Representatives to abolish Australia’s carbon tax, a tax that is costing his mining company millions each year.

The billionaire is Clive Palmer. The country, unfortunately, is Australia.

Step back from the shenanigans of the past week in Parliament, and think about what is happening.

A mining oligarch has bought his way into Australia’s Parliament, and is voting directly in his own interests. Even more alarmingly, he is using his influence in the Parliament to openly direct government policy on climate change.

If this doesn’t strike you as fundamentally improper, then perhaps you should consult the Australian Crime Commission’s definition of “public sector corruption.”

Public sector corruption refers to the misuse of public power or position with an expectation of undue private gain or advantage (for self or others). It may include instances of… ‘trading in influence’.

Would you say Clive Palmer has been “trading in influence”? Queensland’s Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney would.

He’s referred Palmer to Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission, after Palmer allegedly tried to strike a deal for his Abbott Point coal terminal development.

Would you call Clive Palmer’s vote to repeal a tax on a company he owns the misuse of public power with the expectation of private gain?

Let’s recall the extraordinary scenes that took place last week, when Palmer sat at the doors of the Senate chamber and held meetings with Eric Abetz and Mitch Fifield over amendments to the government’s carbon repeal legislation.

As Fairfax’s Tony Wright vividly described it, Palmer “reclined mightily upon a leather chaise longue at the entrance to the Senate chamber as the formerly mighty paid obeisance.”

We often hear laments about the power of vested interests to distort and corrupt democratic processes. But there are no vested interests here: it’s all out in the open.

Clive Palmer has voted to repeal a tax that was costing companies owned by Clive Palmer millions of dollars. He will directly gain from the passage of this legislation.

In fact, Palmer himself has admitted this, citing a conflict of interest as the reason for abstaining from previous votes.

Want proof? It’s all there in black and white on the Parliamentary Register of Interests

According to the register, Palmer still owns a stake in dozens of mining concerns. These include:

Mineralogy Pty Ltd, including subsidiaries:

– Alpha GCP Pty Ltd
– Anshan Resources Pty Ltd
– Austeel Pty Ltd
– Australasian Coal Pty Ltd
– Balmoral Iron Pty Ltd
– Bexfan Pty Ltd
– Blue Star Line Pty Ltd
– China First Pty Ltd
– CITIC Holdings Pty Ltd
– Coal Exports Pty Ltd
– Cold Mountain Stud Pty Ltd
– Cosmo Developments Pty Ltd
– Degulla Coal Pty Ltd
– Deng Xiaoping Memorial Challenge Pty Ltd
– Drewmaster Pty Ltd
– Fairway Coal Pty Ltd
– Galilee Infrastructure Pty Ltd
– GCL Projects Pty Ltd
– Group Coal Pty Ltd
– IM Investment Holdings Pty Ld
– Jericho Coal Pty Ltd
– Mineralogy Candaa Acquisition Corp Pty Ltd
– Mineraology Environmental management Pty Ltd
– Mineralogy Mine Management Pty Ltd
– Nestar Pty Ltd
– Normanton Pty Ltd
– Palmer Foundation Pty Ltd
– Palmer Petroleum Pty Ltd
– Resource Investments (WA) Pty Ltd
– Resourcehouse Pty Ltd
– Thermal Australia Pty Ltd
– Waratah Coal Pty Ltd
– Waratah Coking Coal Pty Ltd
– World Resources Group Pty Ltd
– Nickel Consolidated Pty Ltd
– Nickel Processing Pty Ltd
– Nickel House Pty Ltd, including subsidiaries:
– QNI Metals Pty Ltd
– QNI Resources Pty Ltd
– Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd
– Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd
– Queensland North Resorts Australia Pty Ltd
– QN South Australia Pty Ltd
– Palmer Aviation Pty Ltd

The PDF of Palmer’s business interests runs to 11 pages. While he resigned as a director of Queensland Nickel and Mineralogy in April and May, there is no indication he has divested any of his shareholdings.

As far as the Parliament of Australia has been informed, his stake in a vast network of mining operations remains well and truly in place.

As Greens leader Christine Milne said this morning, “he previously had acknowledged his conflict of interest. As far as I am aware, he still owns Mineralogy and that company owns Queensland Nickel and a variety of other assets, all of which will benefit from the repeal of carbon pricing.” 

You can’t get a clearer conflict of interest than this. And if Palmer has divested his interests and not updated his register – as he is required – then you can’t get a clearer perception of conflict of interest.

It’s worse than this. It’s not just that Palmer is voting on matters that are a clear breach of common standards of Parliamentary conduct and propriety. It’s that Palmer is effectively in control of the Abbott government’s legislative agenda.

The best example is the fact that the Abbott government itself moved Palmer’s amendments in the House of Representatives. Even though Palmer sits in the lower house, it was Environment Minister Greg Hunt who moved the motion

Granted, the Palmer amendments are intended to hold corporations to account if they don’t pass on savings from the abolition of the Carbon Tax. Palmer is seeking a fine of 250 per cent on the level of price gouging for electricity and gas companies that do not pass on the savings to consumers.

But they also benefit Palmer’s interests.

If you dig deeper into the amendments that Palmer was demanding the conflict of interest becomes even clearer

The amendments cover the electricity and gas industries only, rather than the broader economy. Palmer’s companies are primarily coal and nickel exporters; these amendments won’t cover those firms.

In other words, coal and nickel companies that don’t pass on savings to their customers cannot be penalised.

And what are some of the biggest input costs to coal mines and nickel refineries? Electricity and gas.

Not only do they gain from the abolition of the carbon tax, Palmer’s mining companies also have a lot to gain should wholesale electricity and gas prices fall. No wonder Palmer is so keen to lock in the amendments. He wins three ways – lower electricity prices, no carbon tax, and no penalty if he doesn’t pass on the carbon tax savings.

And yet we’ve heard little outrage from the media, or even from the Labor Party, about this cosy deal to the benefit of a mining billionaire.

We’ve heard none from the Abbott government. In opposition, Tony Abbott railed against the influence of the Greens on Labor’s carbon policy, saying that his government wouldn’t do “dodgy deals” with minor parties. That commitment, like so many made before the election, has now vanished.

And so, if and when the carbon tax repeal finally passes the Senate sometime this week, we’ll know that the wealth and power of a mining billionaire played a key role in an historic roll-back of Australian carbon legislation.

It’s not a comforting thought for the future health of our democracy.

Emboldened by these successes, Palmer’s influence will only grow. This morning he was demanding new amendments to the bill abolishing the Climate Change Authority, amendments that would set out the future requirements of a new-model emission trading scheme. Palmer said he was in favour of such in his famous media conference with Al Gore.

It’s all a stunt. Firstly, Palmer wants the carbon price of such a scheme to be zero. Secondly, he wants Australia to wait until a list of countries that includes the US, China and India also implement emissions trading schemes. The chances of that happening any time soon are practically zero.

What’s next on the Abbott government’s agenda? Abolishing the mining tax

I wonder how Palmer and his Senators will vote on that bill. 

Ben Eltham

Ben Eltham is New Matilda's National Affairs Correspondent.

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