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The Clive effect: what next?

The government faces three years of horse trading in the Senate - analysis with Tony Wright, Judith Ireland and Chris Hammer.

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There is something so epic about Clive Palmer that Australian politics may not be big enough to accommodate both his public life and his private life.

His graceless exit from an ABC 7.30 interview on Thursday sits oddly with his usual jocular persona and perhaps shows the difficulties that attend trying to live two lives.

Palmer has been under sustained attack in the media for nearly two months, since allegations surfaced that his Chinese business partners had accused him of using their money for political purposes.

Jovial persona: Clive Palmer has kept up a jocular public face.

Jovial persona: Clive Palmer has kept up a jocular public face. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

But when the 7.30 presenter Sarah Ferguson zeroed in on the allegations, Palmer was not having any of it.

‘‘Don't talk to me about allegations and bullshit ... I’m not discussing it with you any further, madam. It's subject to, it's subject to court proceedings where we're suing them for $600 million ... Well, I'm not answering any more for you, so goodbye. We'll see you later.’’

Exit.

A BRW rich lister, Palmer is one of the few Australians said to have bought himself a seat in Parliament. Curiously, there has been little rancour about such an innovative approach to a political career, due to his wily courting of the media and his happy talent for speaking a kind of commonsense unrestrained by party platform or ideology.

He enjoyed further glory by seeming to make the Abbott government jump through hoops over the carbon tax legislation.

That will be resolved, but Palmer’s Chinese puzzle remains. How did Palmer’s private life became tangled in his political life?

The Players

● Clive Palmer: Millionaire miner and federal MP for Fairfax who cut his political teeth working for the corrupt Joh Bjelke-Petersen government.

● Mineralogy: A Palmer mining company.

● Queensland Nickel: another Palmer company that refines cobalt and nickel outside Townsville. It reportedly made a $58 million loss in 2012 but Palmer said it was profitable.

● CITIC Group: A Chinese government-owned investment company with interests in mines, banks, resources and infrastructure companies. 

● Media Circus Network: Palmer’s PR outfit that ran the Palmer United Party's election campaign.

The infrastructure

● Sino Iron Project: A magnetite mine in Western Australia's Pilbara that exports ore to China.

● Cape Preston: The port from where CITIC ships iron ore.

Court time

● Supreme Court of Western Australia: Mineralogy and Sino Iron are arguing over royalty payments. As ore prices plummet, the companies cannot strike an agreement on a new iron ore price.

● Supreme Court of Queensland: Retired Supreme Court judge Richard Chesterman is conducting a closed-door arbitration.

Palmer has been involved in public brawling and legal jousting through various state and federal courts over cost blow-outs and royalty payments with his estranged Chinese business partner for years. CITIC is mining and shipping ore from Palmer’s leases at Cape Preston in the Pilbara.

But in May, documents lodged in the Federal Court showed Palmer’s company Mineralogy had been accused by CITIC Pacific of siphoning $12 million from it to help fund the Palmer United Party election campaign.

The documents reportedly showed that hundreds of thousands of dollars in superannuation, salaries and other entitlements for Mineralogy employees were paid with funds alleged to have been taken from a disputed bank account.

Other documents, obtained from the Supreme Court in Brisbane, showed an ongoing and behind-closed-doors investigation was being conducted by retired judge Richard Chesterman to trace more than $12 million alleged to have been taken in two lump sums last year without the Chinese permission.

CITIC Pacific wanted to know whether its money was wrongfully used to bankroll the Palmer United Party’s election campaign. A sum of $10 million was withdrawn from a National Australia Bank account in August and a further $2.17 million came out of the same account in September, days before the poll.

Court documents showed the money went to two entities: $2.17 million to Media Circus Network, a media agency involved in Mr Palmer’s election campaign, and $10 million to his company Cosmo Developments.

The money was taken from a NAB bank account, Port Palmer Operations. Palmer’s was the only signature required.

CITIC said an agreement existed that the money should only be spent on operations at Cape Preston.

Court documents showed another Palmer company, Queensland Nickel, put $12.7 million back into the account after the issue was raised in the media.

When the payments became public, Palmer resigned as director of Mineralogy and Cosmo Developments. But when speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, he said he could not remember signing the two cheques that removed the money from the Port Palmer Operations account: ‘‘It was my money. The money was paid to our companies.’’