The West

Palmer is hurting the Nationals

For years Brendon Grylls, the young National Party leader, and Clive Palmer, its biggest single donor, were close - in ideology and proximity.

In May 2009 they squeezed into Mr Palmer's private helicopter to survey the Queensland magnate's $4 billion Balmoral South iron ore project in the Pilbara.

Later that year, Mr Palmer successfully bid $13,000 at a fundraising auction for lunch with Mr Grylls, and in March 2010 the Nationals tyro was one of 25 dinner guests celebrating the businessman's birthday in Albany.

It was a kinship which helped funnel $260,000 into Nationals' coffers in 2008-09 and 2009-10 alone, but led to arguably the biggest headache of a largely unblemished ministerial career.

Mr Grylls suspects it also equipped Mr Palmer with political skills he would later sharpen to devastating effect.

In July 2010 it emerged Mr Palmer had approached the then regional development minister's office rather than the environment or mines ministers to lobby for a $45 million environmental bond to be dropped from Balmoral South. Mr Grylls' failure to list several meetings with Mr Palmer on a freedom of information document schedule and refusal to release correspondence on the basis of commercial confidentiality caused a storm.

That the eventually released documents contained no evidence of impropriety and the Government vowed to levy a different bond were moot points.

For 11 months, the story had been "Billionaire Nationals donor approached Grylls for $45 million favour".

"I remember saying to my wife 'I'm getting towelled up here'," Mr Grylls recalled this week. "I was most concerned at the allegations of impropriety. At that time we (the Nationals) were still trying to show that we weren't fly-by-nighters who were making it up as went along."

Mr Grylls said it was disappointing the Palmer United Party was hurting the WA Nationals' vote and insisted that defeated Nationals Senate candidate David Wirrpanda would have won in September if not for PUP.

But Mr Grylls did not mask his admiration for the man who had taken a party from nothing to three seats in Federal Parliament and a shot at a fourth seat within 18 months.

"He has harnessed the media well," he said. "I was in charge of a billion-dollar program of regional development that we started from scratch and couldn't get a spot on (the ABC's) Lateline or Q and A."

Mr Grylls attributed Queensland party colleague Barnaby Joyce with pioneering the modern political maverick and claimed Mr Palmer was borrowing heavily from the playbook.

The West Australian

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