West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said Clive Palmer’s continuing legal stoush with Citic Pacific has damaged Australia's relationship with China.
The scathing remarks by the Premier come just months out from Palmers United Party taking the balance of power in the Senate, potentially adding the to the already high tensions between the liberals and the independent.
Citic Pacific, which built the $10 billion Sino Iron project in WA’s Pilbara region, is locked in various legal battles with Palmer over aspects of the mine’s development.
These include disagreements over royalty payments, control over Cape Preston and the most recent claim that Palmer’s Mineralogy siphoned $12 million from an account set aside to run the port.
Palmer has previously said that regardless of the cost to Mineralogy and his personal reputation he will stand firm against the Chinese company who he claims owes millions in payments.
CITIC has stood by claims that Palmer has been talking “rubbish” and said it had always honoured legal agreements.
Barnett said the very public disagreements had damaged Australia’s reputation with its biggest buyer of iron ore, The Australian reported.
“Clive has damaged our relationship with China,” Barnett said.
“I spend a lot of my time as Premier ensuring that that damage is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Barnett described Palmer as litigious by nature, saying the mining billionaire will “sue anyone at the drop of a hanky, that’s what he is like”.
“To put it bluntly, the Chinese hate Clive Palmer,” Barnett said.
“In their view, and I think they are right, he’s taking unfair advantage of an agreement … and he is trying to get more money out of them than was originally negotiated.”
Barnett said Palmer had refused to act in goodwill, and that his behaviour had not gone unnoticed by foreign investors.
Palmer appeared on Sky news denying Barnett’s claim, and said the Premier had not “stuck up for Australians”.
“What Colin Barnett’s worried about is he’s acted improperly and he knows he’s exposed himself to a large legal action and large debt because he’s done the wrong thing,” Palmer said.
“As an Australian premier he’s supported a foreign government doing things which are not in the interests of Australia.”
The head of the Australia China Business Council recently said the stoush between Palmer and CITIC would not affect foreign investment.
Duncan Cader said the relationship between the two nations was "a lot more robust than one individual or one project".
Cader said the stoush was another consideration for Chinese companies looking to invest in Australian resources but said it would not act as a deterrent.
“At the end of the day, China is investing here because we have world-class energy and resources projects and we have a track record of secure supply, and we are the natural partner for China for many commodities.
“And I don't think that is likely to change, but the scale, timing and structure of investments will change, and Australia has to recognise that there is now increasing competition for the Chinese investment dollar globally."