Palmer's Qld refinery 'confusion' deepens

By Jamie McKinnell
AAP

Revelations a company put forward to take the helm of Clive Palmer's ailing north Queensland nickel refinery has no environmental authority adds further uncertainty for frustrated workers, unions say.

Administrators FTI Consulting this week announced Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd was replaced as the Yabulu Refinery's manager by Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd - which is run by Mr Palmer and controlled by two of his entities.

But the existing environmental authority is held by the original company, and Queensland's Department of Environment said no application to transfer it had been made.

That process could be undertaken "without delay", a spokesman said, but the operator would also need to be deemed "suitable to undertake the activity", also by application.

The company could instead apply for a fresh authority.

Mr Palmer has expressed hope that 550 jobs at the refinery could be saved, but signalled that it was up to on-the-ground management.

The workers were already "at the end of their tether", said Australian Workers Union secretary Ben Swan.

"It does nothing to dissipate any of the concerns that people have, it's just another point of confusion in an already very confused situation," he told AAP.

Queensland Nickel was placed into voluntary administration in January, just days after 237 workers were sacked.

Mr Palmer has been able to keep the refinery and associated Townsville Port facilities open by securing $23 million of funding.

Mr Swan said the businessman-turned-politician's motivation and timing was a mystery.

"I don't even want to try to attempt to step inside the mind of Clive Palmer to figure out why, because you'll never get out," he said.

"This is a hopelessly complex, convoluted and twisted tale.

"The only person who is capable of answering anything as to motivation is Mr Palmer himself."

Mr Palmer declined to comment when contacted by AAP.