PUP leader Clive Palmer exchanges words with government whip Ewen Jones during a press conference at Parliament House on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Mr Jones throws and Mr Palmer. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Palmer United Party candidate Suellen Wrightson with PUP leader Clive Palmer on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
PUP leader Clive Palmer Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
He will not go quietly.
Outgoing MP Clive Palmer staged yet another press conference on Thursday, flanked by a swarm of new Senate candidates for his fledgling Palmer United Party.
A Palmer presser is always an act of theatre, but this time it was an uninvited guest who stole the show – Ewen Jones, Liberal MP for Herbert and Mr Palmer’s parliamentary nemesis, who rocked up to heckle the businessman about donations made by his now-collapsed company Queensland Nickel.
“When are you giving back the money that’s gone to Palmer United from Queensland Nickel?” Mr Jones asked. “What about the purchases you have made out of Queensland Nickel money?”
More than 550 workers lost their jobs when Queensland Nickel collapsed, a devastating setback for Townsville, where Mr Jones’s electorate is centred. The government has announced it will cover $74 million in entitlements – the largest ever payout under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee – but has signalled its intention to pursue Mr Palmer to recover the money.
Mr Jones’s questions prompted a shouting match with Mr Palmer, who called the government “a disgrace” and claimed the assertions raised by Mr Jones were untrue.
“You’re just desperate to lose your seat,” Mr Palmer told the MP. “You are looking after yourself, nobody else. You don’t look after anybody else and you will soon be unemployed.”
Palmer United’s newly announced Senate candidate for NSW, Sue-Ellen Wrightson, then jumped in from the sidelines, appearing to mock the occasion on which Mr Jones shed tears during a press conference about Queensland Nickel’s sacked workers. “Goodbye Ewen,” she said. “Would you like a tissue?”
Mr Jones said he would be happy to be unemployed if it meant Mr Palmer was held financially accountable for the job losses at Queensland Nickel. He also called the embattled businessman and former LNP life member, “a grub of the highest order”.
A report handed down by Queensland Nickel’s administrators last month found Mr Palmer may have acted recklessly as a director and shadow director of the company. It recommended an investigation by the corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which could yet mean Mr Palmer faces criminal charges.
Meanwhile, Mr Palmer’s personal standing in the seat of Fairfax has nosedived. A Galaxy poll in January found he commanded just 2 per cent of voters’ first preferences, and only 7 per cent were satisfied with his performance. On Wednesday Mr Palmer announced he would not recontest the seat, which he won by a handful of votes in 2013.
The businessman left the door open for a tilt at the Senate himself, saying he would need to speak with his wife Anna first. He would not rule out using money from his company Mineralogy to fund the party’s Senate campaign.
“Why shouldn’t it make a donation? It’s a free society we live in,” he said.
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