In what could turn out to be a delicate moment for Australia’s standing in the world, mining magnate and and potentially a member of the nation’s incoming parliament, Clive Palmer, is set to play host to more than a dozen high-powered former world leaders at his resort in Queensland in just a matter of weeks.
Last December, Palmer was appointed “Joint Secretary-General” of the newly minted World Leadership Alliance alongside the former Spanish Foreign Minister Carlos Westendorp. The Alliance itself builds upon the World Leadership Council of global business leaders of which Palmer is President, and both of which are the initiative of Club de Madrid, the largest member organisation of former democratic presidents and prime ministers.
At the time, a press release issued by Palmer’s spokesperson proclaimed it to be “one of the most significant appointments since H.V. ‘Doc’ Evatt was appointed President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1948”, and newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald ran with the headline “Palmer to advise on G20 summit”.
The Australian reported earlier this year that the appointment came alongside a €500,000 donation channelled through Palmer-owned Queensland Nickel, despite it posting a $58 million loss the same year. Another Palmer-owned company, Mineralogy (where he is also Executive Chairman), also chipped in €229,200 for the Club’s regional meeting in Tahiti that year, from where Palmer went on to conduct a Lateline interview canvassing his prospects of running for federal parliament.
Ultimately, these two donations accounted for more than 40 percent of the Club’s total contributions in the last financial year, and as The Australian highlighted, this outstripped payouts from the likes of NATO (€20,000) and even the Australian Agency for International Development (€95,000), all of which no doubt helped reduce the Club’s deficit to €214,000 in the same year.
But now, the Club has announced its 2013 Annual Conference will be held at the model-dinosaur-strewn Palmer Coolum Resort on the Sunshine Coast in early December. The latest program (older program available online) boasts an impressive list of eighteen former world leaders all confirmed to speak, including from Thailand, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Chile, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Peru and Yemen.
Even Felipe Calderon, who less than a year ago was the President of Mexico is listed on the confirmed program, as are video addresses from Bill Clinton, the Club’s honorary chair, and Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General. A further four former leaders are also tentatively included in the agenda, including George Papandreou who helped steer Greece’s economy towards its current woes (he was actually confirmed on an earlier schedule alongside former South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki).
The Conference’s theme “Societies that Work: Jobs for Inclusive Growth – A call to the G20” reflects the Club’s ongoing focus on the G20’s agenda and will come just a year before the Australian Government plays host the G20 leaders meeting in the same state.
The Club itself has no formal advisory role with the G20. Nevertheless it has likely played a helpful role in influencing the broader public diplomacy around it as it has with similar institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, the OECD, the World Trade Organisation, ASEAN and the UN. But back in July, then-Treasurer Chris Bowen scoffed at suggestions Palmer himself is a direct advisor saying the notion was “not grounded in reality.”
Palmer himself features prominently in the program delivering opening remarks and hosting the official conference dinner where he will also act as Master of Ceremonies for an address by the former President of Latvia, Vaira Vike Freiberga.
With Palmer set to learn within days whether he will become one of Australia’s newest federal politicians as a recount in the seat of Fairfax reaches a conclusion, it also remains unclear whether he intends to continue with his roles with the Alliance and Council if he is elected.
It does seem a little incongruous that a Club designed for former world leaders would allow a now leader of a minor political party to be represented at such a high level, irrespective of his parallel business interests and successes.
The Australian Government as a previous financial donor is also yet to confirm its involvement with the conference, but a slot is reserved in the program’s final session for a representative from the G20 host country.
Just what kind of reaction the high-powered visiting guest list might have to the style of the conference itself remains to be seen, particularly if Palmer’s involvement continues as the outspoken leader of a minor political party which, by then, might have just secured a first foothold in parliament.
But for the answers to these questions and more, we will just have to wait and see.
- Wim Kok, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1994-2002)
- Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria (1976-1979; 1999-2007)
- Abdul-Kareem Al Eryani, Prime Minister of Yemen (1980-1983; 1998-2001)
- Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka (1994-2005)
- Jenny M. Shipley, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1997-1999)
- Vaira Vike Freiberga, President of Latvia, (1999-2007)
- Benjamin Mkapa, President of Tanzania, (1995-2005)
- Ricardo Lagos, President of Chile (2000-2006)
- Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica (1986-1990; 2006-2010)
- Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico (2006-2012)
- Leonel Fernandez, President of the Dominican Republic (1996-2000, 2004-2012)
- Anand Panyarachun, Prime Minister of Thailand (1991-1992)
- Jorge Quiroga, President of Bolivia (2001-2002)
- John Kufuor, President of Ghana (2001-2009)
- Alejandro Toledo, President of Peru (2001-2006)
- Alfred Gusenbauer, Chancellor of Austria (2007-2008)
- Danilo Turk, President of Slovenia (2007-2012)
- Vaira Vike Freiberga, President of Latvia, (1999-2007)
- Bill Clinton, President of the United States (1993-2001) – video
- Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2007) – video
Editor’s note: After contacting Mr Palmer’s office about the conference, he issued a statement. Excerpt:
“I am very pleased to announce that Coolum will be the focus of the world when many high-ranking former world leaders converge for the Club de Madrid annual conference,” Mr Palmer said.
“More than 40 former prime ministers and presidents will take part in the conference aimed at identifying solutions to further employment and sustainable growth in the 21st century.
“It is a tremendous honour for Palmer Coolum Resort, which has previously hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2002, to be staging this major forum of independent thinkers, which will bring enormous global exposure to the region.”
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