CITIC And Clive Palmer: An Interesting Read

WITH POLITICS COMES publicity, and with publicity comes scrutiny; Clive Palmer is certainly fond of the former, but there is ample and growing evidence that when it comes to being put under the microscope, he’s not such a fan of the attention it brings. Today we look at an interesting piece through the eyes of one of Palmer’s sometime Chinese business partners, and whatever else this story might be, it’s anything but boring.

One of the aspects of publishing this blog that I do find frustrating is the lack of resources such an undertaking sometimes entails, and whilst I possess some training in journalism (but not graduate qualifications, to be clear) the investigative research and attention to detail that I would often like to incorporate into this activity is often subsumed by the workload my primary business activities — which are unrelated to journalism completely — entails. As readers know, this column is something I do in my spare time for the love of the conversation about politics.

Every once in a while, therefore, an investigative piece comes to hand that I like to share, as one article from the Murdoch press has this morning; it involves mining baron and federal MP Clive Palmer, and documents some of the raft of inconsistencies in the self-promoting stories Palmer tells of himself: some of them already well-known and in the public domain, others — such as Palmer’s claim that his father sat him on Mao Zedong’s knee as a boy — that will probably comes as news to most people who read it.

The article — written by Paul Toohey and appearing in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today — can be accessed here, and I am grateful to acknowledge the leg work that has been put into compiling such an interesting chronicle of the interesting stories with which Palmer gives account of himself — and the observations in response from those who probably know the man better than anyone who has cast a vote for him.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a very heavy (but by no means exclusive) skew toward Palmer’s business dealings in China to all of this, with the claim by Dongyi Hua — the former head of Citic Pacific Australia, the local division of the state-run Chinese mineral enterprise Palmer is in legal dispute with — that Palmer faces arrest and interrogation by authorities if he sets foot in the Communist country near the top of the list.

It makes for an interesting read, certainly, and I encourage all readers with an interest in the self-styled future Prime Minister to take the time to peruse it.

Toohey’s piece — which has clearly been painstakingly researched — carries direct quotations from figures in government and business in Australia, China and Papua New Guinea, and whilst listing all of the episodes it covers out and discussing them at length would be counter-intuitive, a couple of them stand out — for rather obvious reasons.

Such as the claim Palmer’s “Titanic II” project — announced with such fanfare in what increasingly seems to have been a tactic to elicit press coverage — is unlikely to ever proceed due to a lack of interest on the part of Chinese investors in doing business with him.

Or the assertion from WA Premier Colin Barnett that the Chinese “hate Clive Palmer” — a contention that certainly finds support among the claims and refutations contained in the article, and tends to cast a shadow over the image Palmer likes to portray as a businessman inextricably hooked into the booming, burgeoning Chinese market and its insatiable appetite for Australian mineral resources.

I wanted to share this article with readers partly as a follow-on to yesterday’s article dealing with Palmer’s approach to parliamentary entitlements, but mostly because it reinforces yet again a pattern that appears to be increasingly clear: that is, that behind all the bluster, grandiose claims and bellicose self-aggrandisement lie realities that simply don’t withstand scrutiny.

Or — as Toohey quotes Hua’s rather blunt assessment — that “(Palmer) tells lots of stories and after one second he’s forgotten about it.”

One aspect of the Toohey piece that fails to surprise is the revelation of a recorded conversation between Palmer and Hua, in which Palmer suggested the CITIC chairman could “stick it up his arse” and that “I’ve had enough of you so just pack up all your fucking gear and get back to China.”

It tends to conjure up memories (as we touched on yesterday) of the staffing issues at Palmer’s resort in Coolum that he sought to hush up last year, and certainly of the episode in which he is said to have abused a diner in one of its restaurants that attracted publicity both here in Australia and internationally.

And one other issue the story touches on involves the matter of a “missing” $12 million of CITIC monies that the Chinese firm alleges was used to bankroll his election campaign last year, and which is currently the subject of court proceedings, and whilst this column makes no assumptions on where the money might be (or whether it is even “missing” at all), this is interesting because the same matter has found its was into The Guardian today as well.

Responding to suggestions elsewhere in the Murdoch press over the $12 million in question — and calling Rupert Murdoch a “gutless wonder” on account of his papers speculating over whether the “missing millions” were siphoned from CITIC to bankroll Palmer candidates — Palmer told The Guardian that “I’ve got billions of dollars. That’s where (the $12 million in election spending) came from.”

Well, quite.

The question of whether he’s a billionaire at all, as he claims — or worth somewhere more in the order of about $700 million — is yet another question about Palmer that has consumed endless thousands of column inches’ worth of conjecture in the Australian media. But I digress.

And just for good measure — and in an echo of past threats to tip the defamatory bucket over political adversaries, especially under parliamentary privilege — he threatened to reveal “the truth” about Barnett.

The problem Palmer’s account of himself to The Guardian creates is that it might close off one line of attack against him, but opens another.

If we assume the $12 million in question came out of his own pocket, and not from CITIC, it raises a question: Palmer has been repeatedly accused of spending huge sums of money to buy votes; he has also been accused of using it to effectively buy seats in Parliament by offering things to the elected representatives of other parties in his attempts to poach them, and whilst Palmer has defamation proceedings on foot against Queensland Premier Campbell Newman in this regard, the admission the money was spent at all puts him in a rather difficult position to explain away.

Irrespective of where it came from, Joe Public — that man (or woman) on the street whom Palmer has tried to bamboozle with bullshit in his lust for political relevance and representation — will have a difficult time believing that he hasn’t been out on a vote-buying spree; and even to accept that the money didn’t come from his trading partners and wasn’t intended to “buy” seats in Parliament, the appearance of a rich businessman throwing eight-figure sums of his own money at his own election campaigns is hardly representative of a charitable or philanthropic endeavour.

This remains a fact that no amount of quibbling over semantics or squabbling in Court to deter critics with the threat of litigation can change.

And that — in a nutshell — is the insoluble problem Palmer faces: his activities may invite all the publicity in the world, but sooner or later the scrutiny that accompanies it will create impressions on his audience that he doesn’t like, or want, and can’t control.

You just have to wonder at what point in the cycle all of this passes a tipping point. When that time comes, Palmer will be shown up as the political red herring he really is.