Yabulu back in Palmer's hands

DESPITE his role as the federal member for Fairfax, Clive Palmer has emerged as a leading player in the shock replacement of the old operator of the Yabulu nickel refinery in Townsville.
Yabulu back in Palmer's hands Yabulu back in Palmer's hands Yabulu back in Palmer's hands Yabulu back in Palmer's hands Yabulu back in Palmer's hands

Noel Dyson

This means the debt laden Queensland Nickel, which was placed into administration in January, is no longer operating the refinery.

QNI Resources and QNI Metals– the companies that own the Yabulu refining assets – have appointed Queensland Nickel Sales to operate the refinery.

Palmer is to head Queensland Nickel Sales.

FTI Consulting, which was appointed voluntary administrator of Queensland Nickel, will continue to deal with its administration. The assets it has at its disposal include the nickel stockpile it had on hand when the refinery was put into administration and a cattle station. The liabilities include the unsecured debts of more than $A100 million. Of that, $30.8 million is in worker entitlements, including $16 million owed to the 237 staff made redundant just before Queensland Nickel was put into administration.

“The decision to replace Queensland Nickel as joint venture manager was determined by Mr Clive Mensink as director of QNI Resources and QNI Metals,” FTI said in a statement.

“The actions of Clive Palmer, Clive Mensink and their related entities are beyond the control of the administrators.”

Mensink, Palmer’s nephew, was managing director of Queensland Nickel.

Queensland Nickel Sales has received a conditional offer of about $23 million in funding to support the business operations of the refinery.

In January, FTI said an injection of “tens of millions of dollars” would be needed to keep the business going long-term.

That $23 million conditional funding facility will be secured against assets outside of Queensland Nickel that were not available to the administrators.

It is understood the 550 remaining employees at Yabulu will be offered employment on the same terms and conditions as they are currently engaged.

FTI will continue to evaluate proposals for the future restructure of Queensland Nickel or its liquidation.

This will include continuing its investigation into the past management of the company and the underlying reasons for its insolvency.

The Queensland government had reportedly offered a $10 million loan to keep the refinery going, on the proviso that Palmer be removed completely from the business.

Palmer said he had been “working diligently for weeks to find a solution to secure the long-term operations of the Yabulu Refinery and its workforce in the best interests of the Townsville economy”.

“I have been harshly vilified with false allegations in respect of this matter,” he said.

“The Queensland government and the Treasurer Curtis Pitt have done nothing to protect the livelihoods of the people of north Queensland.”

Pitt appealed to Palmer to detail the effects on workers and creditors of the new corporate arrangements given they were put in place outside the control of FTI.

“Mr Palmer needs to explain clearly what this new arrangement means for the existing entitlements of the refinery’s current employees, and what guarantees he can give them about their future employment security and their existing entitlements," he said.

Pitt called for clarity for the 237 workers who had already been made redundant.

“Quite rightly people have been deeply concerned about their own futures because of the uncertainty over the future of the refinery," he said.

“They now need to be given clear explanations and assurances about what the changes mean for them and their future.”