Queensland Nickel: Clive Palmer Won't Invest In Refinery 'Just To Lose Money'

13/03/2016 1:08 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - JULY 07: Clive Palmer speaks at National Press Club on July 7, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Today is the first day of sitting for the new senate. Twelve Senators were sworn in this morning. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer is remaining tight-lipped about the future of hundreds of employees whose jobs are in limbo at his north Queensland nickel refinery but admits the plant won't be able to operate for at least 2 months.

The Yabulu refinery shut last week after 237 workers were laid off in January -- an outcome the federal MP has blamed on crashing nickel prices and a lack of Queensland government support.

The operation near Townsville is said to be carrying around $100 million debt.

The job prospects for the facility's remaining 550 staff remain unclear after the plant's environmental licence was transferred to another Palmer-controlled company and workers finished what could have been their final day on Friday.

Speaking on Sunday, Palmer failed to give guidance about the at-risk jobs but said it would take at least eight weeks for the plant potentially to operate again.

"We have to have ore. It will take eight weeks to get ore on the ground where the refinery could operate," he told ABC television.

He said he was waiting on a number of approvals from the Queensland government before the refinery could get up and running.

The Member for Fairfax said he would be working hard to see whether the government wanted his operation in the state and would not be stumping up millions of extra dollars "just to lose that money".

"The major approval we need is to operate a hazard facility hasn't been granted by the Queensland Government and of course you have to have all the approvals or you're breaching the law. That's the reality of it," Palmer said.

"The directors of the company, which is not me, can't operate that refinery unless they've got the approvals to do it."

He also flagged a potential sale of the refinery.

"If that would help it I would do that. If that would change the government's attitude because they don't like me," he added.

Palmer's comments on Sunday follow revelations earlier this year that Queensland Nickel -- the company that previously ran the refinery -- made $288,000 worth of donations to the Palmer United Party (PUP) over six months.

Queensland Nickel reportedly donated more than $20 million to PUP in the past two years.

Palmer denied making such donations was like giving himself money that his company didn't have.

"Those donations ... they were made before September 2015 and of course in September 2015 the auditor signed the accounts of the company, testifying that it was solvent," he said.

"The forecast at that time showed a $65 million profit in that coming year and ... things deteriorated after that because of a change in the nickel price."

At the time administrators were called into the troubled Yabulu nickel refinery, Palmer cited the falling global nickel prices and the failure of the Queensland government to invest $35 million for the plant's woes.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the refinery was important for the region and urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to help the workers impacted by the closure.

"It's now time for Mr Turnbull to show that he cares about people," Shorten told reporters in Sydney.

"This is an important decision for him, but that doesn't absolve Mr Palmer and his company and their management for their conduct."

Australian Workers' Union Queensland Branch Secretary, Ben Swan, said Palmer should be ashamed of himself, telling Macquarie Radio the businessman was engaging in "emotional torture" of workers.

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