Can Clive Palmer re-open the Queensland Nickel refinery?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Ray Alexander, an employee at the refinery for 32 years, following the announcement Clive Palmer wants to re-open his Queensland Nickel refinery and claims his companies have plenty of cash to do it despite his assets being frozen.

Introduction: Can Clive Palmer re-open the Queensland Nickel refinery?

Ross Greenwood:  We are told you then when speaking with Scott Morrison the treasurer, about Clive Palmer and his plans to re-open the mothballed Townsville nickel refinery. Now, you heard there also the treasurer say that it will take a long time for Clive Palmer to rebuild trust not only in that community, but with many people around the country. Now, he’s able to do this, not withstanding the fact that the nickel refinery, parts of at least, are in liquidation mainly because there are other companies which had rights over the operations of that refinery.

The facility was shut down in 2016, and is previously been cautioned against offering false hope to people in north Queensland. Now, do bear in mind also that earlier this year, when there was an application in the courts to try and free some 200 million dollars of Clive Palmer’s assets, that Clive Palmer said if that was successful, he would never re-open the refinery. Well, that application was successful, but not withstanding that he now says that he would consider re-opening the refinery. Well, let’s talk about the trust that he might have in the community of North Queensland. Ray Alexander, for 32 years worked for that Queensland nickel refinery, the Yabulu refinery. Now, he left shortly before the closure of the overall business. He went out and set up his own shop, got himself going and had a gift and jewelry shop. That was around eight months before it closed, so he’s been doing that ever since he’s on the line. Many thanks for your time Ray.

Interview with: Ray Alexander, former employee

Ray Alexander: Yeah.

Ross Greenwood:  Good, thank you. Tell me– I mean when we hear that Clive Palmer might be considering re-opening that nickel smelter, what’s your initial reaction to that?

Ray Alexander: Well, my initial reaction when I heard it, it’s been muted for a little while, but my initial reaction was well, “I’ll believe it when I see it”. But, yeah– look it is– Townsville’s struggling pretty hard at the moment, the last few years, so if they could open it up, and it was only half the size, 400 jobs there, Townsville would be very–

Ross Greenwood:  The jobs will be welcomed there’s no doubt. What about the state of the infrastructure out there? There’s been issues with boilers and all sorts of things out there that we’ve reported. What– it’s going to take a bit to get it going I would have thought.

Ray Alexander: Someone said there’s about– he got 500 million on his hands. I think if he– I don’t know, that’s just a massive number of dollars to me, but yeah. After being there for so long it would take a lot of money to bring it back online to get it to an operational status. Yeah, definitely.

Ross Greenwood:  When you left it Ray, eight months before it officially–

Ray Alexander: No no, I was still there.

Ross Greenwood:  You were still there right at the very end?

Ray Alexander: I was there right at the very end, yeah.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay, well tell me what it was like then. What the facility was like then; was it run down; was it struggling; how was it going?

Ray Alexander: Yes, there was a lot of maintenance that hadn’t been carried out. There was– there was a lot of work that hadn’t been done, and that wasn’t just Clive, that was probably 15 years before when it was– looked like it was going to close down and they got the imported oil in from overseas. It was probably a five or six. There was just basic maintenance done. No refurbishment or no– just to keep it going and then BHP bought it, they put some money in, and then they decided that it wasn’t a goer.

Ross Greenwood:  They walked away basically for a dollar, but then they made certain assurances from Clive Palmer that he kept certain amounts of money going through the door. It seemed like it was coming good, but ultimately then the nickel price fell, the whole business fell apart and as you say, if the maintenance wasn’t kept up it’s going to be even more expensive surely, to get it back up and going again.

Ray Alexander: Yes, it will be very expensive to get it going again. They have done that. There’s a maintenance crew out there that’s doing what’s needed to be done but there’s very minimal and yeah. It’s going to be difficult for him to get anyone’s trust. There’s a lot of– some of the workers or most of the workers, everyone was different. They got their pay– paid out through the government’s assistance program, but there was– that was the workers. There was a lot of– people who supplied anything from toilet paper to whatever so I think some of those– they never got their amount of money that was owed to them.

Ross Greenwood:   That’s where the trust absolutely lies. Ray Alexander, a former worker at the Queensland nickel refinery in Townsville. He’s now set up a shop– business, that’s going well for him, but as he says it’s going to take a long time for people there to trust Clive Palmer again.

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