It’s been a poor couple of weeks for mining magnates.

First, Wayne Swan baited a trap for them in claiming they were exercising a malign influence on public debate through their wealth, and Andrew Forrest walked right into it with full-page press ads decrying the Treasurer and demonstrating his point perfectly.

Then Gina Rinehart lost her attempts to suppress details of her family dispute, which looked like a lot of other family conflict except with an extra six zeroes on the end of numbers.

Now Clive Palmer again has demonstrated the eccentricity that comes from having so much money you don’t have to care what anyone thinks of you.

Palmer isn’t just a mining magnate, of course. He’s a professor, as he likes to remind us, in particular an adjunct professor of management at Bond University. His conspiracy theories come with authority; if he says Bob Brown is actually a CIA hitman, then you’d better believe it.

The best response from Brown would have been to have called a media conference dressed in a dinner suit, clutching a Walther PPK and scoffing Beluga caviar.

Palmer is doing no more than continuing Queensland’s rich tradition of conspiracy theorists, which has produced the Citizen’s Electoral Council and Pauline Hanson, to name only the most prominent of recent years. Nor is it the first time he’s accused people of being a CIA front — back in November, it was American Express who were doing the bidding of the spooks.

Most conspiracy theorists don’t own political parties, however. The former Bjelke-Petersen spinner was a key force in the establishment of the Liberal National Party, although he now professes to disappointment with his offspring.

While we await further breathless (for health reasons) revelations from Palmer about what fate really befell Harold Holt, the UFO base under Bass Strait and whether the Australian branch of the Illumnati allows members to wear thongs, it’s wise to consider just who represents foreign governments in Australia.

This isn’t the first time Palmer has had a lash at the US. In November he boasted of not attending the reception for Barack Obama on his Australian visit, resentful as he was of the Gillard government’s agreement to establish a training facility for US marines near Darwin. “Why a do you think the likes of the head of BHP and myself didn’t go to the dinner?” Palmer said to the Financial Review. “We have real interests (in China) and know how the Chinese act.”

Clive loves China and Chinese government investment. It is critical to many of his ventures; the massive China First coal mine will be partly funded by $1.2 billion China Exim Bank. China Exim is wholly owned by the Chinese government.

He also attacked the Foreign Investment Review Board in September 2009 as “racist” and demanded we “treat the Chinese people and Chinese government with the dignity they deserve”. In August that year, Palmer had demanded that then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd “keep quiet” about arrested Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, and that he was “very positive with the Chinese government and the Chinese companies, and we’re working very well with them.”

If he’s concerned about foreign government-funded involvement in Australian mining, Clive ought to look a little closer to home.

Peter Fray

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