Sacked workers hope they are about to hear the death knell for Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel, as the federal MP fights claims he was secretly pulling the strings at his embattled company.
Queensland Nickel has debts of about $100 million and creditors will learn on Tuesday if administrators want it wound up.
The Australian Workers Union (AWU) believes liquidation is likely and would be welcomed by workers because they would then be able to access a federal scheme covering some of their entitlements.
One Townsville family that’s barely surviving is praying FTI Consulting recommends liquidation.
“We’ve all got debt collectors chasing us. Fingers crossed that’s what happens,” the wife of one sacked worker, who did not want to be named, told AAP on Monday.
“There’s so much debt. Things are going unpaid. Next step bankruptcy and having to start all over again.”
The woman, her husband and their children lost their house when the job went, and have been forced to move in with elderly in-laws.
“There’s 10 of us in one house at the moment until hubby finds work. We’ve got four children plus my son’s girlfriend and their baby because we were providing for them too,” she said.
“If we can get this federal money it might just get us up to scratch with bills, and then we can wait for a job to come. My husband is constantly sending out resumes and he’s enrolled in a course.”
AWU Queensland branch secretary Ben Swan says 787 workers and their families who relied on Mr Palmer’s Townsville nickel refinery have endured a long period of financial pain.
He says they won’t get close to the $74 million they are owed but given how close the wolf is to the door for many, he thinks they will be relieved if they can secure access to federal government help.
“It’ll be something, which is better than nothing,” Mr Swan told AAP.
The fate of Queensland Nickel will ultimately be decided on April 22, when creditors will meet in Townsville to vote on FTI’s recommendations.
As Mr Palmer awaits those recommendations, he’s been forced to defend himself against fresh claims he had the final say on multi-million dollar spending decisions at the company well after he stepped down as a director on his election to parliament in 2013.
Most of the decisions were outlined in emails from Mr Palmer’s email alias, Terry Smith, the ABC’s Four Corners program has reported.
Mr Palmer is already facing a probe by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and Queensland Nickel’s administrators into whether he acted as a shadow director before his company ran into trouble.
He has accused Four Corners of being uninterested in the truth on a story that will damage him, and has written to the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott, claiming the story contains factual errors.
In an interview on ABC Lateline, Mr Palmer said he was “absolutely not” a shadow director and pulling the strings of the company.
He said he was one of six people in a joint venture committee, set up in an agreement drawn up when the Queensland government was a shareholder in the business, making decisions.
He rejected questions about whether he personally had been required to approve purchase orders more than $500 in the last three or four years, saying that approval had to come from the committee.
Mr Palmer laughed when asked about using the alias Terry Smith when sending emails to Queensland Nickel staff, saying he used the email to make restaurant bookings and that the emails were signed “Clive”.
“If I wanted to make an appointment at the Wild Duck restaurant and Terry Smith made the appointment, you media wouldn’t be there bothering me,” he said.
“If there was a reservation under my name, there would be 20 or 30 media at the restaurant.”
Mr Palmer was also quizzed about an email sent with the Terry Smith alias where he argued against advice to bring forward an oil pipeline safety inspector.
“That’s my nephew Martin cautioning me,” he said.
“I rejected his advice. That was my prerogative to do so as a member of the committee, as other people could have had contrary views if they wanted to.”