What a thoroughly illuminating chat we saw last night between mining magnate Clive Palmer and Lateline host Tony Jones. In the space of 20 minutes Palmer declared himself a hero for saving lives with his helicopters during the Queensland floods, branded News Limited papers biased — in favour of Labor, flagged an investment in Fairfax with Gina Rinehart, starting a rival newspaper in Brisbane, and revealed a serious man-crush on his fellow silver-haired inquisitor.

“I haven’t got the intellect that you’ve got, or the experience,” Palmer told a blushing Jones.

“You know, you’re one of my greatest heroes when it comes to the journalisms in this world and I’d only ever aspire to be half as good as you are. So that’s — you’re one of the few journalists left. You’re the last sentry at the gate of journalism in Australia because you’re a person who does verify, does do your research, does ask the leading and probing questions and does care about the results. So that’s the sort of example we want.”

Jones responded wryly: “OK, we’re happy to use that as a promo.”

But then, the multimillionaire has an axe to grind against others in the media. The Liberal-National Party bagman reckons News Limited’s Brisbane tabloid The Courier-Mail has lost its edge. Something to do with its placement of ads, we think:

“On page two, they had a full-page advertisement selling lettuce and Asian greens. On page three they had carrots and things like that. So, The Courier-Mail‘s lost its credibility, I think, as a good quality publication …

“There should be another paper here. I mean, the Telegraph was a wonderful paper. I mean, it was a broadsheet originally, The Courier-Mail; it’s become more like a Woman’s Day or a Women’s Weekly or a local thing with a lot of advertisements about chops and lettuce and things — very important issues. They’ve got Asian greens are featured this week on the — in The Courier-Mail. “I don’t know whether that’s a con for a green politician of some Asian extraction, but they were certainly advertising Asian greens right the way through the paper.”

Huh? More to the point, Palmer reckons the Snail is backing Anna Bligh’s Labor government in the upcoming state election. Which might come as a shock to Labor pollies in Canberra, who regularly rail against the Murdoch media for its supposed anti-Labor bias …

“Well I think that’s Rupert Murdoch’s policy worldwide. If you ask him to support the government of the day, regardless of their political persuasion, because that’s the way they work and that’s the way they think they get the best deal. And I’m sure that they’re doing that. And I’m sure that they’ll support conservative government when it suits them. We saw Rupert Murdoch dragged before the House of Commons with his son. That wasn’t reported too well in The Courier-Mail. We didn’t see much of it Queensland. We had to go on the net to find out what was happening.”

Then there was the news that sent investors into a flutter: inspired by Gina Rinehart, who upped her stake in the flailing media giant this week, Palmer wants a piece of Fairfax:

“Fairfax looks very exciting. You could have an east-west play with Fairfax. Gina should come from the west and buy 15% and we could buy 30% from the eastern side of Australia and really get the place humming again.

“That sounds very, very attractive. I’ll have to consider that overnight and see what my stockbroker tells me in morning and my financial advisers. We’ve certainly got the money and we’d certainly like to see media in Australia become much higher. And she’s a very, very smart woman, so if she’s going after Fairfax, there must be something in it, Tony, so we’ll certainly look at that one …

“So, being in Fairfax, providing some service to the community, working with Gina — a person like Gina Rinehart sounds very attractive to me. I think of course we’d want 30%, not 15% and we’d go much more aggressively to make sure the company got things moving.”

And were he to start that Brisbane newspaper? It’s obvious who he’d pick as editor. “Well, I don’t know what I’d call it,” Palmer told Jones, “but I know who I’d put there for as editor, if you’d take the job.”

Said Jones, no doubt contemplating the salary spike: “All right, we’ll just leave that hanging in the air.”