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The Power Index: rich crusaders, Clive Palmer at #8

National Living Treasure nominee Clive Palmer is the biggest political donor in Australia. But, with his $5 billion fortune, he can afford to give away a few quid, especially if it wins him friends in high places.

Queensland’s richest man, who has made a motza in mining, only gives to the Right. But since they’re about to storm home in the Sunshine State elections next month, that’s beginning to look like a good move.

In the last three years Big Clive has given nearly $3 million to the Coalition, with the bulk of it going to the LNP, led by Can-Do Campbell Newman (soon to be Queensland’s premier) and Clive’s mate Bruce McIver, the Christian cattle trucker who was No. 5 in our Political Fixers list.

This will get him a sympathetic hearing in government for his huge China First coal mine, planned for the Galilee Basin, if the LNP wasn’t already planning to give him one. But Clive doesn’t do it because it’s good for business. He’s a rusted-on True Believer in the free market and development.

In his younger days, Palmer was media adviser to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who was on a mission to save Australia from communism. Before that, he made a fortune in real estate on the Gold Coast. That probably gives you a good idea of his political pedigree.

Palmer doesn’t confine his crusade to backing politicians who share his faith. He loves going on Q&A, regularly tells people how crazy the Labor Party is, and constantly urges us to be nicer to the Chinese, who have made him his billions.

Recently, he’s been musing about getting even more media muscle, by joining that other mining billionaire in Fairfax. “Working with a person like Gina Rinehart sounds very attractive to me,” he told the ABC’s Tony Jones last month. “Of course we’d want 30%, not 15, and we’d go much more aggressively to make sure the company got things moving.”

Palmer also told the ABC he might set up a new Brisbane newspaper to take on The Courier Mail, saying he had plenty of money to do so.

With Palmer as proprietor, one might expect to see more of his colourful views on the mining tax (“communism”), Julia Gillard (“an idiot”), and the CPRS (“a great big tax that will make little difference to the environment”).

But he would also anger people on the Right by urging better treatment for asylum seekers. He once compared offshore processing to what the Nazis did in World War II.

Professor Palmer, as he likes to style himself (courtesy of an honorarium from Bond University), is certainly a character. His own PR describes him as “one of the world’s major mining identities” and “one of Australia’s most colourful and shrewdest entrepreneurs”.

It also boasts that, “his influence as a public speaker and advisor is highlighted by meetings with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, US Senator Joe Lieberman and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard in recent years”.

Senator Joe Lieberman? Wow!

Palmer is also a big donor to charity and the Catholic Church, claiming far bigger gifts to both than he has ever made to politics. In 2008, he famously pledged a whopping $100 million for medical programs in WA, with the declared aim of helping indigenous people.

However, none of this money has yet been paid, and it’s not clear if the foundation has even been set up.

Asked if it was the biggest-ever charitable donation, Palmer told the media: “Well it probably is, but from our perspective our company’s a private company and we’ve certainly made a lot of money out of the Pilbara and we’ve got more than we need to survive comfortably.”

The $100 million is set to flow from royalties streaming out of the Sino Iron project at Cape Preston, which Palmer sold to China’s CITIC Pacific in 2006 for $415 million. Due to start production later this year, after $6 billion in development costs and lengthy delays, it will be Australia’s largest magnetite mine.

Palmer also owns the Yabulu Nickel refinery in Townsville, once owned by Alan Bond, where he is famous for giving his employees 55 Mercedes Benzes and 700 overseas holidays for Christmas in 2010.

More significantly, he owns the still-to-be-developed China First coal project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, which he claims will create 1500 jobs and generate $4.6 billion a year in export revenue. Palmer is currently suing QR National for $8 billion for planning a rail link to the basin, with backing from the Bligh government (which owns 30% of the company). Palmer thought he and QR National were going to build one together.

This sort of tussle gives you an idea of what is at stake for a mega wealthy mining magnate in dealings with government.

*Read the full profile at The Power Index

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