New Caledonia fears civil unrest after collapse of Clive Palmer’s nickel refinery – by Joshua Robertson (The Guardian – January 19, 2016)

Nearly all of South Pacific territory’s income comes from nickel exports and authorities say job losses and economic downturn could cause political unrest

The collapse of Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel business has compounded fears of civil strife in New Caledonia should the French territory’s key mining customer go under completely.

The perilous position of the Townsville-based metals producer, which puts nearly all of New Caledonia’s export income from laterite nickel ore at risk, has heightened concerns among business operators and government officials that the fallout could spill over from major job and revenue losses into violent industrial clashes.

They expect the shutdown or mothballing of Yabulu refinery in Queensland would inflame a deeply divisive conflict in New Caledonia over the restriction of laterite purchasing rights to Palmer’s company and could create a significant political headache for the government.

It follows a warning by New Caledonian president Philippe Germain in a letter to Palmer last November that a shutdown of the Yabulu refinery would result in political unrest, violence and mine closures.

Reports of Queensland Nickel’s clouded future, after it went into voluntary administration with reported debts of around $70m on Monday, have made nightly television news bulletins in New Caledonia, where a quarter of all private sector employment relates to nickel exports.

A government agency source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was widespread awareness that “if Yabulu collapses, there would be dire consequences for the country as a whole”.

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