The Guardian | 10 May 2023
Clive Palmer’s company plans to sue Australia in fresh claim, budget papers reveal
by Paul Karp
Clive Palmer’s company Zeph Investments has given notice it intends to sue Australia in a fresh case in addition to an existing $296bn claim, with a potential third claim in the works.
The two new prospective claims are revealed in budget papers, released on Tuesday.
Guardian Australia revealed in 2020 that Singapore-based Zeph Investments Pty Ltd had requested consultations which developed into the first claim against Australia seeking $296bn for an alleged breach of the Asean free trade deal.
That case relates to Western Australia’s extraordinary law to prevent Palmer from seeking compensation over his massive Pilbara iron ore project, which was rejected by the WA government.
The budget papers reveal “the commonwealth has also received requests for consultations from the same claimant [Zeph] in relation to two other potential claims and a notice of intent to bring an arbitration in relation to one of the claims”.
“An investor-state claim has not been brought against Australia in relation to these two matters at this time.”
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The Attorney General’s Department said the commonwealth “has received requests for consultations from Zeph on two potential claims unrelated on their facts to the arbitration already on foot”, confirming they are new matters that could expose Australia to further legal liability.
“Australia and Zeph met to discuss these two matters in April 2023,” a spokesperson told Guardian Australia.
“In one of those claims, Zeph has issued a notice of intent to bring an arbitration.
“While at this time, formal investor-state disputes have not yet commenced, it would be inappropriate to provide further comment at this time.”
The first claim was formally launched by a notice of arbitration dated 28 March, which the budget papers confirm has been raised under the investment chapter of the Asean, Australia and New Zealand free trade area.
“Should Australia be unsuccessful in this proceeding, Australia would be liable for any compensation found to be payable to the claimant,” the budget papers said. “Any such potential liability cannot be quantified at this stage.”
Palmer’s mining company Mineralogy was in dispute with WA over the stalled Balmoral South iron ore project, which was rejected by then premier Colin Barnett in 2012.
When Palmer sought arbitration of the dispute in the Queensland supreme court, the WA parliament rushed through legislation to extinguish his claim, warning it could cost the state up to $30bn.
The notice of arbitration claims that the WA premier, Mark McGowan, and the attorney general, John Quigley, planned legislation to “effectively destroy the claimant’s iron ore mining investments in Western Australia”.
In March, a spokesperson for the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said : “We will vigorously defend Australia’s interests.
“The commonwealth will work with Western Australia to ensure Australia’s interests are protected.”
In a statement, Palmer said “if any windfall was to come to Mineralogy, the funds would be used for public good”.
He suggested this could include spending on WA hospitals and a “new independent daily newspaper in WA which doesn’t rely on cartoons to sell copies”, in reference to a report in the West Australian.
Guardian Australia contacted Palmer for comment.