Billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer’s multiple court actions against the Western Australian Labor government and Premier Mark McGowan over the right of states to impose COVID-19-related border lock-downs versus his own “right” to do business struck a snag on August 25 when the Federal Court ruled in favour of WA’s hard border closure.
The federal government had initially supported Palmer’s case, even presenting expert evidence in support of opening up borders, but then suddenly pulled out.
Justice Darryl Rangiah ruled that the border closure was more effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 than any other measure. Ultimately, the High Court will have to decide whether WA’s indefinite closure of the interstate border is constitutional.
Separately, it will also have to make a judgement on whether the state government’s emergency law attempting to shield itself from any liability against Palmer’s longstanding $30 billion iron ore damages claim is legal.
Palmer is claiming damages for the WA state’s 2012 cancellation of Mineralogy’s Balmoral South iron ore project in the Pilbara. The project has been halted for now, but may be revived if that law is overturned. That case is before the Federal Court now, as is a separate claim alleging the Premier defamed Palmer.
The billionaire has gone on record saying litigation is his “hobby”, so his string of court cases should not come as a surprise.
While these legal shenanigans demonstrate the power of billionaires and how they can force governments to do their bidding, it doesn’t always go all go their way.
Palmer has had many run-ins with the law. Recently, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission charged him with fraud and dishonest use of his position as a company director over his funnelling more than $12 million into the Palmer United Party’s (PUP) 2013 federal election campaign.
Palmer’s company, Queensland Nickel, was the single biggest corporate donor in that state during the 2013–14 financial year. He poured more than $15 million into the PUP to help buy four seats in the Queensland parliament.
His estimated wealth is $4.09 billion and yet he has still has not paid the hundreds of Queensland Nickel workers who were laid off when the company went bankrupt in 2016. They are owed millions in outstanding employee entitlements.
Last year, Palmer spent $50–60 million to help the Coalition win the federal election. The PUP did not win a seat, but Palmer said afterwards that that had never been his intention. His spending was aimed at securing another term for the Coalition.
Palmer is also seeking compensation for his giant central Queensland coal mine. The Galilee Coal Project involves two open pit and four underground coal mines, potentially making it one of the biggest coal operations in Australia if it receives its final approvals. It has federal and state approvals already, but needs to be given the final tick by the Queensland Land Court.
Environmental group Youth Verdict has taken legal action against Palmer’s corporation on the grounds that it infringes their human rights because of its contribution to climate change.
Palmer’s actions are in keeping with billionaire plutocrats who think their ill-gotten wealth should allow them carte blanche to make more.
But the ruling 1%, who buy and run governments in Australia, are not all powerful.
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