Clive Palmer’s $100m foundation to benefit Aboriginal people launched 10 years ago only has $109 in it, despite never having disbursed a grant or allocation, according to financial records published by the Australian charity commission.
The Western Australian government said it intends to investigate the situation.
“We are currently investigating any avenues which might be available to compel Mr Palmer to make good on his promise,” WA’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Ben Wyatt, told Guardian Australia.
“Any candidates standing for Mr Palmer’s reheated political party should explain how they themselves reconcile standing for a party whose central figure has behaved in such a disgraceful and untrustworthy manner towards Aboriginal people.
“Clive Palmer has proven himself time and time again to be no friend of West Australians and certainly no friend of Aboriginal West Australians. I would encourage all West Australians to look at his record when he last appeared in our nation’s parliament and judge him accordingly when they are at the ballot box on election day.”
Palmer announced the foundation in 2008 and said it would allocate $100m for medical research in the Pilbara. It was hailed at the time “as the greatest single act of charity in Australian history”.
Palmer Care was then registered as a charity in 2012, “to cover areas of Australian Aboriginal health and welfare including communities and organisations dedicated to the betterment of Aboriginal society, physical and mental health and for the creation of employment opportunities”.
In 2013, there was $103 in the account.
In 2017, the Australian Charities Commission entry described the foundation as “small”, noted it did not operate, had no employees and only one “estimated” volunteer.
Its current net assets are $109.00. The 2018 annual information statement is overdue.
A spokesperson for the charities commission said small charities do not have to provide financial reports, but they do need to submit an annual information statement on time or risk financial penalties or the revocation of charity status.
The foundation was established in the wake of a series of court battles between Palmer’s Mineralogy and traditional Aboriginal land owners in the Pilbara.
The Kuruma-Marthudundera people hold native title over the lands on which Mineralogy acquired mining and exploration leases in 2000.
The Kuruma-Marthudundera Aboriginal Corporation (KMAC) is the organisation representing traditional owners.
The KMAC chair, Sara Slattery, told Guardian Australia that Palmer visited the Pilbara in 2008 and “promised he would set up a community benefit fund, but we never saw any of it at all”.
KMAC and other native title holder organisations in the region had projects they wanted to develop and “tried a few times to touch base with Mr Palmer, but we didn’t get any response”, Slattery said. “He refused to engage with K-M people.”
When asked what KMAC might apply to use $109 for, Slattery laughed: “Petrol up here is $1.70 a litre. We probably couldn’t even fill the car up to get out to the mine site from here in Karratha.”
The leases were acquired under the Western Australian Liberal government of Richard Court, whose government decided to grant leases over land on which native title had been claimed or awarded, but courts at the time could not say for certain had not been extinguished.
It was a controversial move, and other companies chose not to take up the offer. A court case was pending which would clarify the matter – later known as the Ward decision – but in the interim, the WA government said mining, pastoralism and other land use could go ahead without needing to pass federal or state native title requirements.
Mineralogy took advantage of the policy and acquired three leases in the Pilbara, some of which was on the native title claim area of the Kuruma-Marthudundera (K-M) people. Between 2008 and 2014 there were three different court cases in which they raised concerns that Mineralogy was not dealing with them fairly.
In 2012, a WA court found the Mineralogy managing director Vimal Sharma’s evidence was “vague and rigid” and that he had made “sweeping statements which could not be substantiated in the witness box”.
“He did not inspire me with confidence … and seemed to be misguided about the provisions of the Mining Act,” the magistrate Elaine Campione wrote in her decision.
The Kuruma-Marthudundera native title holders claimed the leases were operating in the middle of three important sites, including sacred areas and a burial site, and that Mineralogy were “not genuine in their consultations”.
Mineralogy displayed “a sense of absolute entitlement in relation to its mining endeavours”.
“It does not appear to me the applicant is genuine in its assertion to consult with the K-M people,” Campione wrote.
Mineralogy’s leases over Kuruma-Marthudundera traditional lands include the Sino iron ore mine, which is the site of ongoing legal battles with Chinese mining giant Citic Pacific, and the site where Palmer candidates said this week the Chinese were potentially able to stage an invasion of the country.
Slattery said Citic Pacific were negotiating a land use and mining agreement with traditional owners and “they’ve been really, really good”.
Slattery also said it was bizarre that she and other Aboriginal people in the Pilbara had been receiving United Australia party’s “vote-for-me text messages”. “Wow, this is interesting, I thought. I don’t think they were really meant for me.”
In February last year, the Palmer Care foundation amended its governing document to remove any direct reference to Aboriginal people.
According to a resolution of the directors, Clive Palmer and business partner Domenic Martino, the foundation now includes “charitable works throughout Australia including direct assistance to unemployed, disadvantaged Australians, donation to Not For Profit charitable organisations, service and sporting clubs.”