Queensland Nickel refinery workers left without entitlements will paid by the Federal Government under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG), putting “National Treasure” Clive Palmer squarely in its sights.
Taxpayers will be expected to foot the $73.9 million bill for workers’ entitlements, although Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the government was “prepared to step in to assist in ensuring that employee entitlements are recovered in full from any companies or individuals that have profited from the endeavours of hard-working Australians”.
“We are doing this because of the unique and alarming circumstances in this case — where a current Member of Parliament and self-reported wealthy Australian businessman is directly involved,” Cash said.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Queensland Nickel Joint Venture Partners have not taken care of this business responsibility to look after their workers.”
Australian Workers Union spokesperson Ben Swan said the FEG payments would provide much needed relief to unemployed workers, however they would not cover the full entitlements.
“It’s important for people to remember that employees are owed much more beyond what FEG will pay in terms of outstanding entitlements, so the proper focus for anyone through a liquidation process should be about obtaining the full entitlements for employees,” he said.
“Both Mr Mensink and Mr Palmer, in our view, appear to have been reckless, in exercising their duties and powers as directors of QN.”
Despite Queensland Nickel’s choice of FTI Consulting as voluntary administrator, the relationship has soured with Palmer saying he will take legal action against the company, claiming their report contains “lies”.
The report from FTI said Palmer had acted as a shadow director, and that both he and his nephew/QNI director Clive Mensink had acted “recklessly”, allegations which Palmer denied.
“Our observations indicate Mr Palmer, a former director of the company, appears to have acted as a shadow/de factor director of QN at all material times from February 2012 up to the date of our appointment on 18 January 2016”, except when he held tenure as a director,” the report said.
“Mr Palmer formed part of QN’s expenditure approval process committee as ‘chairman’ and held the highest level of authority.
“This level of approval is required for all expenditure requests with a value greater than $10,000.”
FTI has indicated Palmer will likely face prosecution if it is found he acted as a shadow director while the company was insolvent, however the implication that he lied to constituents as a member of parliament that he had retired from business could quickly end his political career.
“Both Mr Mensink and Mr Palmer, in our view, appear to have been reckless, in exercising their duties and powers as directors of QN,” the report said.
“Their actions appear to have caused significant detriment to QN, having potentially appropriated assets ordinarily available to QN, and extinguishing any and all available alternatives and opportunities to QN in any short and long term business strategy.
“Ultimately, the determination of whether the directors have breached their duties will be made by a court.”