Clive Palmer asked to step aside amid conflict of interest claims

Owner of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge in Queensland wants Federal MP Clive Palmer to step down from his mining interests so the approval process for the China First coal mine project is not compromised.

Palmer's company Waratah Coal is planning to build a $6.4 billion coal and rail project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin in a deal approved by the state government.

The mine would be linked to the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen by a new 453km standard gauge, heavy haul railway line and would require part of the adjoining 8000-hectare Bimblebox Nature Reserve to be mined.

The proposal is currently before the Federal Government for approval with a decision expected in early 2014.

However Bimblebox Nature Refuge owner and grazier Paola Cassoni says concerns around a potential conflict of interest are valid, ABC reported.

"The interests of the public, the interests of the nation, are not the interests of one person, especially if the interest is as huge as a mega development in the Galilee Basin," she said.

Cassoni wants to see Palmer step aside from his business interests.

"When you are a business person and you also have a position of power, it's very easy for me to see that the power can overcome the business, so you can ask for favours and exchange of favours," she said.

Newly sworn in as an MP, Palmer has previously declared his business interests would not interfere with is political career.

Palmer said he was not a key player in any of his businesses, only an investor, reaffirming that his new political status did not represent a conflict of interest.

"I'm full-time. Fully retired from business, one hundred per cent politician. That's all I'm doing. Nothing else,” he said.

"As a member of parliament, you don't have a conflict of interest. Only if you're a minister,'' Palmer told the ABC's 730 program.

"That's what the legal cases say. Members of parliament are free to vote as they want on anything.''

However Cassoni remains unconvinced, stating federal approval for the mine could be swayed.

"That happens all the time in politics – I believe it would be appropriate for Clive Palmer not to have any mining that is waiting for approval, especially within the federal arena,” she said.

Queensland's coordinator-general said after evaluating Waratah Coal’s EIS, approval had been given subject to strict development and operating conditions.

The strict conditions include procedures to manage matters including surface and groundwater impacts, rail line flooding, and social impacts.

‘‘The proposed mitigation and management measures including a commitment to rehabilitate to pre-existing conditions as far as practicable, are appropriate to manage impacts and [make sure] that the long-term viability of species or their geographical distributional range is not threatened,” the report said.

The project is proposed to consist of a combination of open cut and underground mining and will produce 40 million tonnes of thermal coal per annum (Mtpa) over an expected life of about 30 years.

The project is expected to create 3500 construction jobs and more than 2300 operational jobs.

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