SYDNEY, March 13 (Reuters) - Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer said on Sunday his nickel refinery in Queensland will be idle for at least eight weeks, due to a lack of ore and because government authorities have not yet fully approved its operation.
Speaking on Australian Broadcasting Corporation television, Palmer said the refinery is offline because there is “no ore” for it to process.
“It will take at least eight weeks to get ore on the ground so the refinery could operate,” Palmer said. He described the plant’s situation as a “great tragedy” for its 550 workers, whose future employment is uncertain.
The plant, at Townsville in Australia’s northeast, went into voluntary administration in January as a collapse in nickel prices to 12-year lows pushed it into financial difficulty.
Palmer, however, wrested back management control of the plant last week as the head of a new joint-venture, Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd and announced his intention to keep the refinery open.
On Friday the Queensland state government gave environmental approval for the refinery to operate under its new management.
But Palmer told the ABC the approval process was incomplete and he later said on Twitter there were 18 approvals outstanding “making further activity at the refinery impossible or illegal”.
Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, told reporters the government had not received any requests for further approvals, despite bureaucrats being in “constant contact” with Palmer.
“I think Mr Palmer is taking some poor shots without having the full information that’s needed,” Palaszczuk said.
“My government is prepared to work with his new company to look at the approvals that are necessary for the continuing trade of that company, but we need a bit of honesty from Mr Palmer about what approvals he needs, he actually needs to lodge the approvals for the government to consider the approvals.”
A spokesman for Queensland’s environment minister told Reuters that Palmer required no further environmental clearances to run the plant.
Before Palmer reassumed control of the refinery, administrators had been strongly considering placing it on care and maintenance due to ongoing trading losses and their concerns over plant maintenance, safety and environmental issues.
Two weeks ago the plant shut down for 11 days due to low ore stockpiles.
On Friday, Nickel ore shipments ordered by the administrator, FTI Consulting, were diverted away from the refinery because Palmer’s new entity declined an offer to purchase the ore, a spokesman for FTI told Reuters.
Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Robert Birsel