Australian billionaire and mining giant Clive Palmer has enlisted one of the country’s top lawyers as he seeks nearly $300bn in damages from the federal government over a failed mining project.
Mr Palmer has launched legal action over an iron ore project in Western Australia and has sought the help of former federal and WA attorney-general Christian Porter in doing so.
Singaporean company Zeph Investments, owned by Mr Palmer, served a notice of arbitration on the Albanese government, with the matter intended to be heard in Switzerland.
The legal action has sparked outrage from WA Premier Mark McGowan, who labelled Mr Palmer as the “greediest man in Australian history”.
Clive Palmer has been labelled the ‘greediest man in history’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Mr Palmer, 69, who has a net worth of around $2bn, became a billionaire in 2019 after a court decision allowed royalties for iron-ore mining to flow into his company, Mineralogy.
Mr McGowan read from a prepared statement in parliament and said Mr Palmer had displayed “the most deplorable act of greed in Australian history”.
“One of the richest people in Australia – Clive Palmer – now wants more money,” Mr McGowan said.
“And he’s suing his own country to get it.”
The action isn’t necessarily a surprise, with Zeph attempting to engage both the Albanese and former Morrison government in negotiations.
Mr Palmer’s suit arises from the West Australian government’s 2020 legislation, which he claimed was “rushed through parliament”, to remove his ability to sue the state for damages over the Balmoral South iron ore project.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the commonwealth would launch a “vigorous” defence. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
In a statement, the federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the Commonwealth would work alongside WA to ensure the country’s interests were protected in a “vigorous” defence.
“As these matters have now become the subject of an investor-state claim, it would not be appropriate to provide further comment at this time.”
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, and federal member for Perth, Patrick Gorman said it was disappointing that a former federal attorney-general was helping Mr Palmer with a “ridiculous” lawsuit.
“I think many would be disappointed that we have a former Liberal Party attorney-general helping out on this case, and so far we have absolute silence from Peter Dutton,” he said.
Mr Gorman said Mr Palmer was using international trade agreements to sue the government, but the Commonwealth would outline its defence “through that process”.
“Mr Palmer used Western Australia as his testing ground for a range of his legal cases, and now he’s coming after the Commonwealth,” Mr Gorman said.
“He has a former Liberal Party attorney-general, a former West Australian member of parliament, a former West Australian treasurer indeed, as his lawyer in this case.”
He said “huge amounts” of taxpayer money were at stake.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the lawsuit could cost taxpayers $11,500 each. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Philip Gostelow
Mr Palmer has claimed that, if successful, he would use the money to support life and “public good” in WA but also indicated he would start another daily newspaper.
“There is also a compelling case for a new independent daily newspaper in WA which doesn‘t rely on cartoons to sell copies,” Mr Palmer said in a statement, questioning the “lack of media diversity and consumer’s choice for accurate news”.
According to Mr McGowan, the $300bn claim would cost each Australian around $11,500 in taxpayer money.
“Clive Palmer is the greediest man in Australian history,” he said.
“This is a man who once proclaimed he loved Australia, but he now claims to be a Singaporean businessman in order to sue Australia.
“It is treacherous and traitorous conduct on a scale this country has never seen before.”