A combustible Australian billionaire is intensifying his war against the Aussie government, seeking nearly $200 billion in damages over a longstanding mining dispute.
The billionaire, 69-year-old Clive Palmer, controls the company that filed the claim—Zeph Investments, which is headquartered in Singapore. The battle traces back to 2012, when authorities in Western Australia blocked his firm’s iron ore proposal. Palmer’s company sought to revive the matter through arbitration, but the effort failed in court. The $200 billion gambit marks a second stab at getting the government to pay.
News of the massive claim was earlier reported by The Guardian.
Palmer has become a fixture of Australian headlines. Last year, he promised to spend a record-breaking amount of money to elect his favored political candidates, though in the end his party secured just a single seat.
Nonetheless, his influence has made some observers uneasy. “Think about in the United States one of the Koch brothers running for president or something and outspending the Democrats and the Republicans,” Peter Chen, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, previously told The Daily Beast. “It's that sort of crazy money.”
Palmer also generated controversy in the early days of the pandemic for his anti-vaxx rhetoric. To the chagrin of public health authorities, he published advertisements casting doubt on the effectiveness of vaccines.
The billionaire also sparked upheaval for a protracted legal battle with the premier of Western Australia, whom Palmer alleged had defamed him. The premier countersued, and in August both sides were found to have defamed the other—though Palmer was ordered to pay greater damages.
The hubbub over the iron ore project began more than a decade ago, after one of Palmer’s firms submitted its plans to the government for approval, which it insisted complied with an earlier agreement. The bid was rejected, prompting the mining firm to seek arbitration, as The Australian Financial Review reported.
Several years later, with the matter seeming to lean Palmer’s way, the government enacted “emergency legislation” that “terminated the arbitration, voided any awards granted to Palmer and his firms, and prevented the state from having any liability towards the billionaire in related disputes,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
"The government has done what we can to protect tax payers from Clive Palmer's $30 billion claim which would have bankrupted our state,” Western Australia’s premier said at the time.
Outraged, Palmer called the premier “an outlaw swinging his gun,” arguing that he had“used his position as Premier in the Parliament to give himself and his Attorney General immunity from the criminal law.”
He appealed to Australia’s high court, though the justices unanimously voted against him.
Now, in a different approach, Palmer’s Singapore-based firm is claiming that Australia violated terms of a free trade agreement and is liable for massive damages. And would you believe it: the Western Australia premier is once again furious, reportedly referring to Palmer this week as the “greediest man in Australian history.”
Palmer has recruited Australia’s former attorney general Christian Porter as one of his company’s lawyers.
The legal aggression will likely do little to improve Palmer’s standing in Australia. (A December 2021 poll labeled him the “least likable politician” in the country, with just 8 percent of respondents viewing him favorably.)
As Greg McCarthy, emeritus professor at the University of Western Australia, previously wrote to the Beast: “Palmer is all about EGO.”