The Queensland Nickel Refinery went into receivership this week as
it’s beneficial owner Clive Palmer (Federal Member for Fairfax) attempted to justify
the $20Million in donations the refinery had made to Palmer United Party over
two years including $290,000 declared on 31 December (and donated in
the previous six months). Queensland Nickel’s Chief Finance Officer claimed Mr Palmer paid $2.5 million out of
his own pocket so workers could be paid over Christmas.
The ABC’s Antony Green gives an account
of the rise and potential fall of the Palmer United Party on
his blog and while every article former Nationals Senator Bill
O’Chee writes for Fairfax seems to demonstrate his inbuilt conservative bias,
almost certainly have to pay back the $288,000 donation it received at the end
just be the start though. If the $21.1 million paid to the PUP in the
previous two years is found to be "uncommercial" or an
"unreasonable director-related" payment, and the company was
insolvent at the time, then that money will also have to be paid back.
Palmer has a number of ‘business
interests’ and has also been a political ‘player’ for decades. Given that Palmer’s companies are generally
privately owned, no one can be certain of his financial position but this biography
gives some insight into his wealth, business and political interests.
It would be unfair to suggest that Palmer
only failed because he went into politics.
Nathan Tinkler at one stage had interests in mining, construction,
sports management and horse racing. He
started out as an electrician in a BHP mine in the Hunter Valley. Again Wikipedia has a potted biography of
Tinkler which goes into his current financial issues.
Christopher Skase was a prominent
Australian in the 1980s – when apparently ‘greed was good’. He was a journalist who turned a small
Tasmanian company Quintex into a large multi-national conglomerate. Skase fell afoul of financial laws, exiled
himself to Spain and died there in 2001, despite efforts by the Australian
Government and the administrator of the Quintex group to force him back to
Australia to answer the claims against him.
Alan Bond started as a signwriter in
Perth. He came to prominence through
property development and has gone from the highs of winning the Americas Cup in
1983 to the lows of having his Order of Australia revoked and serving a six year jail sentence in the late 1990’s. Bond died in 2015.
It seems that Australia has a history of
people that ‘make good’ then perform a spectacular ‘flame out’. Bond served jail time, Skase probably would
have if he returned to Australia and, as they say, the investigations continue
in regards to Tinkler and Palmer.
Larger than life personalities are not
the only ones with the ‘get rich quick with scant regard for the ethics’
attitude also extended to ‘Funds Management’ companies that seem to purchase
assets with financial problems, fiddle with the balance sheet then on-sell the
company with little regard for the damage that invariably will be done to the
ultimate owners – as Dick Smith (the person) alluded to in this
report on the current financial woes of the chain of shops that
still bear his name — although he has no financial interest in them..
Clearly there is a need for
regulation. Unfortunately, regulation
will not keep up with those who are paid to invent new ways to profit which while
(barely) legal are certainly not moral or ethical. Perhaps the best solution is to question
those that have apparently turned nothing into something quickly a lot earlier
and with more diligence. Some better
investigation of the worth of ‘personality business people’ by the media and
various government bodies may protect those who do not have the wherewithal to
do the work themselves is probably also overdue.
In closing, the recent request by Palmer
for a bailout to keep Queensland Nickel operating is not the first. The previous request was made by Alan Bond as
his business empire was crashing down in the 1980’s. "Plus ça change, plus c'est
la même chose" – the more it changes – the more it’s
the same thing.
There seems to be a pattern where the
latest ‘wiz kid’ operates a business successfully then diversifies into
businesses they probably don’t know much about.
The current ‘dramas’ with Dick Smith Electronics and Masters Hardware
demonstrate that the corporate world is no better at times. Unfortunately, there seems to be little to
stop the next ‘wiz kid’ making the same errors.
What do you think?