BIG IDEAS: Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has always had grandiose plans.
BIG IDEAS: Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has always had grandiose plans. DAVE HUNT - AAP

Old mates of different stripes

ZEROS on the end of numbers are a dime a dozen to Clive Palmer.

That is what Cr Paul Tully discovered with wry amusement when he delved into a book about Palmer's life that references the fun times the duo shared as younger men after they had been law students at the University of Queensland in the 1970s.

The book, Clive - The Story of Clive Palmer by respected journalist Sean Parnell, has some fascinating and humorous tales about the antics of Tully and Palmer.

One such tale relates to the Labor-endorsed Tully running for Division 2 in the Ipswich council election in 1979. A legend subsequently circulated in political circles that Palmer had given Tully $5000, which would have been the largest-ever donation to the party in Ipswich. Palmer says in the book that it was $5000, but Tully, with a degree of amusement, recalls a far smaller amount.

"I'd invited Clive to come along to the launch, and opposition leader Ed Casey had also come along, because in those days we were endorsed by the Labor Party," Tully recalls.

"Clive gave me $100, which was a pretty significant donation in those days. You'd be pretty stupid to say no.

"But Clive has a different recollection. He just seems to add zeros onto amounts.

"He might have claimed $5000 as a tax deduction. But $5000 would have bought a big block of land in Ipswich in those days. A donation like that back then would have been unheard of. My whole campaign would have cost less than $500."

The politically Left-leaning Tully and conservative Palmer don't on the surface strike you as likely mates. So why did Palmer give Labor such a donation?

"Because we had struck a friendship a few years earlier," Tully says.

Both men have a maverick streak that no doubt drew them together.

Palmer has his Titanic II and Dinosaur Park projects, out-there theories such as Rupert Murdoch's ex-partner Wendy Deng being a Chinese spy... and myriad other grand schemes in the works.

And there's Tully, still hot on the trail of whether bushranger Dan Kelly escaped the Glenrowan Hotel fire and working into the wee hours on his book about the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

"Clive and I were both law students back in the 1970s at the University of Queensland," Tully says.

"He was a pretty colourful sort of character with lots of ideas…and we just clicked as individuals."

Tully has a colourful story about how Palmer got multinational giant KFC off his back after some of his own playful antics.

"I'd read about this situation in America where the name 'Colonel's Lady Dinner House' was registered and KFC had been looking at the issue," Tully recalls

"You could register a business name in Queensland for $10 in those days, so I registered that.

"Ultimately I got these really savage letters from KFC and they got even more demanding, to the point where I thought I could be up for a king's ransom.

Clive Palmer yells in frustration from his aircraft toward Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s personnel in a nearby hangar after his plane was refused refuelling at Melbourne Airport.
Clive Palmer yells in frustration from his aircraft toward Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s personnel in a nearby hangar after his plane was refused refuelling at Melbourne Airport. DAVE HUNTAAP

"I spoke to Clive and said, 'What will I do?'

"He said he knew some lawyers and that we could sort it out.

"I was asked (by KFC) why I wanted to register the name and I said it was for my beekeeping business, which was drawing a long bow to suggest that Colonel's Lady Dinner House could be related to beekeeping.

"I was only recently married and I had a multinational company threatening to put me in jail...but Clive sorted it out."

Palmer settled the claim and Tully handed the business name over to KFC. In the book Palmer says "at the end of the day they paid us $10,000 and I split it with Paul Tully".

Tully recalls a different amount and muses that Palmer might have kept $9800.

"They didn't give me $10,000. I ended up with $200," Tully grins.

"To Clive, money is nothing. He said he split it with me, but it wasn't an equal split. But I was just happy to get KFC off my back."

Palmer, who sold real estate in Ipswich with a company called GSS Property Sales, always had an eye for a bargain and Tully gives an example of that in the book.

"There was an old boarding house on the market for $60,000 and Clive bragged to me later that he went around to the old lady that was selling it and offered $18,000," Tully says.

"I thought that was a bizarrely low offer. Clive said to me, 'She said to me that she needed the money...OK'.

"There was nothing improper about it...but he was always entrepreneurial. Houses in the Goodna area then could be bought for $20,000... so it was an incredible bargain."

Tully can boast of beating his old mate in a vote when he was elected to the Queenslanders for a Republic group that went to the Australian Constitutional Convention in 1998.

Palmer, a republican, had also put himself forward to be elected.

"He is obviously not very happy that I beat him because he is still complaining in the book about it," Tully said.

"The only time I've got one up on him was when it came to a public vote...and I won on his preferences. That would cut him up pretty hard."

Palmer will stand in today's Federal Election for the seat of Fairfax and his Palmer United Party is polling 8% of the primary vote.

While Tully doesn't expect Palmer to win any seats in the Lower House he says "you'd have to say he's done well for someone...who was on the bones of his backside as a university student".

"He's gone from being a student on the streets of Brisbane bumming free accommodation at night... to become a billionaire," Tully says.

"I think he likes to be recognised as one of the richest men in Australia, but I don't think money is a driving force.

"My view about Clive is that he has the last laugh. He comes out and makes all these bizarre statements in front of the press about what he is going to do...and he pulls off most of what he says.

"In the book I say that he is neither mad nor eccentric.

"He is colourful in the broader sense of the word. I've got to give him a lot of credit."

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