Larger than life, de­ter­mined to suc­ceed

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Mark West­field

Clive: The Story of Clive Palmer By Sean Par­nell HarperCollins, 328pp, $39.99 (HB)

THE man de­scribed by Barry Humphries as ‘‘ the rein­car­na­tion of Sir Les Pat­ter­son’’ was, as this re­view went to print, within grasp of a seat in the fed­eral par­lia­ment. That prospect raises an in­trigu­ing ques­tion: would the re­sult have been dif­fer­ent if those who voted for the Queens­land min­ing mag­nate had read Clive: The Life of Clive Palmer be­fore cast­ing their votes?

In Sean Par­nell’s timely bi­og­ra­phy, Palmer comes across as hav­ing an ex­treme per­son­al­ity: bom­bas­tic, opin­ion­ated yet naive, im­petu­ous, a man ob­sessed with pub­lic­ity but deeply sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism. He is quick to at­tack the many en­e­mies he has made in the course of build­ing his wealth and in­flu­ence, some­times in­ac­cu­rately and un­fairly. He doesn’t know when to have his say, then shut up.

Yet for all his blus­ter and gauch­eness, he has suc­ceeded in busi­ness, and the party he named af­ter him­self ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions in last week­end’s polls. He is clearly a de­ter­mined per­son who iden­ti­fies his goals, no mat­ter how cock­eyed they may ap­pear to oth­ers, and pur­sues them.

Par­nell, a se­nior jour­nal­ist at The Aus­tralian, strug­gles at times to tread a path be­tween ‘‘ ex­plain­ing the in­ex­pli­ca­ble (who is Clive Palmer?)’’ and record­ing his sub­ject’s larg­erthan-life ex­is­tence in a mea­sured, non­judg­men­tal fash­ion.

The re­sult is the reader is in­vited to make the fi­nal judg­ment. I sus­pect it will not be a pos­i­tive one. It is hard to warm to the man, at least as pre­sented here. The only time he elic­its sym­pa­thy is fol­low­ing the death of his first wife, Sue, to whom he clearly was very close. The sym­pa­thy fades a lit­tle when he im­me­di­ately starts see­ing the widow of a for­mer em­ployee and mar­ries her within 12 months.

Palmer claims to be heav­ily in­flu­enced by the deas and en­trepreneur­ship of his fa­ther, Ge­orge. Palmer Sr’s court­ing of the me­dia to have pos­i­tive sto­ries pub­lished on his nu­mer­ous and var­ied busi­ness ven­tures was no­ticed by the young Clive, and the courtship and ob­ses­sion con­tin­ues.

His wealth — Forbes mag­a­zine put his net worth at $US795 mil­lion in Jan­uary last year — is clearly a huge part of his life.

Yet the reader of Clive may be left won­der­ing how se­cure that for­tune is. Palmer’s big­gest projects are plagued by tech­ni­cal prob­lems and run­ning over bud­get (the iron ore de­posit at Cape Pre­ston in the Pil­bara), await­ing ap­provals (Waratah Coal in Queens­land) or los­ing money (Palmer Coolum, the Palmer Nickel and Cobalt Re­fin­ery near Townsville).

Par­nell has been able to iden­tify the $40m Palmer claims to have made in his early years as a prop­erty de­vel­oper and the $US415m paid as an up­front roy­alty in 2006 by his long­suf­fer­ing part­ner in the Pil­bara pro­ject, Chi­nese in­vest­ment group CITIC Pa­cific.

When Palmer de­buted on BRW’s Rich List in 2007 with es­ti­mated wealth of $1 bil­lion, he de­rided the fig­ure at the time, claim­ing to be worth three times that, al­though not a sod of

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