Questions over Palmer donations to be answered by Supreme Court

After a failed election campaign, which cost his companies almost $5 million, Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party could lose out again.

Dec 03, 2020, updated Dec 03, 2020
Clive Palmer's planned coal mine has already received strong opposition (Photo: AAP Image/Jeremy Piper)

Clive Palmer's planned coal mine has already received strong opposition (Photo: AAP Image/Jeremy Piper)

The Electoral Commission of Queensland has asked the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether one of Palmer’s companies, Palmer Leisure, is a property developer banned from making political donations under Queensland law.

“The ECQ is seeking clarification from the Supreme Court about whether a corporation, Palmer Leisure Australia Pty Ltd, is a property developer within the meaning of that term in the Electoral Act 1992,” the commission said in a statement..

“There are particular features of the definition of property developer which, in the circumstances of this corporation (Palmer Leisure Australia Pty Ltd) and its activities to date, led the Commissioner to consider it was prudent to seek a declaration from the Court as to whether the corporation is a property developer, before considering whether any compliance action was necessary.

Palmer Leisure is involved in an ongoing planning stoush with Gold Coast City Council over a development proposal for one of Palmer’s golf courses. While Palmer Leisure is not listed as having donated to UAP, his business affairs as inter-related and Palmer Gold Coast donated $25,000. As part of its compliance role, the commission can order donations be handed over, however it is unclear how far any declaration would extend.

This is separate to Palmer being charged with fraud over $12 million in transfers from his flagship company Mineralogy to his previous political venture, the Palmer United Party. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission alleged the transfers were “contrary to the purpose for which the funds were being held”. The case has been adjourned for mention in March.

The Gold Coast City Council matter has been listed for review tomorrow, while the commission’s application – to which Palmer has yet to respond – is scheduled for a directions hearing on December 18. Palmer studied law at university but did not graduate, and later listed litigation as a hobby, known for appealing any adverse judgments with vigour.

It is not the first time the courts have been asked to clarify the developer donations ban. The Liberal National Party took its challenge all the way to the High Court, but was unsuccessful. The LNP later had to hand over certain donations found to be in breach.

Party co-founder Gary Spence was concerned his development activities might put him in breach, so stepped down as president, but still donates to the LNP himself.

Conservative think-tank the Australian Institute for Progress this year sought a ruling on whether it could, as a third party, accept donations from developers. Proceeding on the basis it could, so long as the money was not directly funnelled into the campaign, the AIP spent $30,825.40 on the state election.

The Resources Council of Queensland had to register as a third party, like the AIP, after becoming political when it called on people to vote against the Greens. It has yet to reveal its campaign expenditure, and the Greens secured a second seat in parliament.

UAP failed to win any seats, nor did its preference flows prevent Labor being re-elected.

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