After an interview on Sunday in which Clive Palmer said the restart of the Yabulu Nickel refinery could take six weeks, the troubled billionaire has backpedalled, saying the restart won’t occur until July.
Former managing company Queensland Nickel sacked 787 workers from the Yabulu Refinery near Townsville this year, one of the largest redundancies recently in Australia.
Now managed by Queensland Nickel Sales (QNS), a company which has been on the Australian business register since 1999 and is also owned by Clive Palmer, the future of the refinery and the 787 workers fired is completely uncertain.
Palmer said administrators FTI Consulting cancelled shipments of nickel to the refinery, meaning stockpiles are now exhausted.
On ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Palmer said a restart would take at least six weeks before stockpiles would be adequate to continue production.
In transferring management of the refinery, Palmer and his nephew and sole director of Queensland Nickel Sales (and director of the Queensland Nickel, which owes an estimated $100 million to hundreds of creditors, including 237 workers sacked in January) Clive Mensink necessitated the transferral of environmental approvals to continue operations.
A statement from QNS said the company and administrators agreed to transfer management of the refinery on March 7, after FTI Consulting said they would have to shut the plant down, which was when Mensink said the environmental approvals would need to be transferred.
“In the following days, QNS made relevant applications to the Queensland Government to transfer the necessary approvals to operate the refinery once the administrators had terminated the workforce, which was scheduled by the administrators to occur on March 11 2016,’’ Mensink said.
“As the approvals had been planned to be transferred, in essence, to the same refinery and port operations personnel, it was anticipated that these transfers would not take more than a few days to receive government approval.
“By Friday March 11 2016, the Queensland Government had not transferred all approvals required.”
Mensink blamed administrators for failing to transfer a cash balance of $10 million from Queensland Nickel to Queensland Nickel Sales as expected, which prevented further purchase of nickel ore.
“The administrators had not transferred the cash balance of approximately $10 million to the account of QNS as it was required to do. Because of the cancellation of nickel ore orders by the administrators, there is no nickel ore projected to be delivered to the refinery,” Mensink said.
“The result is that QNS is not in a legal position to operate the refinery or because of the above reasons, does not currently know when it will be in such a position.”
Palmer has recently shifted blame from himself to his seven year old daughter for a tweet from his Twitter account to Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt, which contained a picture of a yellow gnome statue giving the middle finger, saying that he “could not stop her”.
Yesterday 300 former Queensland Nickel employees met with Townsville business group Sister City Partners to discuss the prospect of purchasing the refinery in a joint venture, however Palmer remained sceptical about their capacity to finance the move.
“It’s really a question of whether they will be able to get that support to run the operation successfully,” Palmer said.
Palmer said the issue was not the purchase price, but the ability to turn over $600 to $700 million each year to keep the plant running.
Former QN employee Damian Herrmann told the ABC he thought the project would be viable because the nickel price was prone to fluctuation.