The revolving door culture of self-interest on both sides of NSW politics, means it is difficult to distinguish between government, lobbyists and the CSG industry. Another eye-opening Sandi Keane investigation.
I DON'T KNOW about Denmark, but there’s certainly something rotten in the state of New South Wales.
With NSW Labor reeling from corruption charges leveled at former Labor king-maker, Eddie Obeid, today, the O’Farrell government copped similar accusations by Canberra king-maker, Independent MP for New England, Tony Windsor.
Windsor told ABC AM this morning he’d “had enough” of governments seen by the public to be in the pockets of miners who trampled over community sensibilities. He wants to put an end to the game-playing and “Mickey Mouse protocols” that fail to protect water resources from CSG mining.
He’s calling in his half of the bargain for supporting Labor’s mining tax — a new trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to protect water quality. Environment minister Tony Burke and the Greens have lined beside him on what is looking like another rancorous debate the CSG industry could do without.
It’s time to get down and dirty to check out the underbelly of the culture of self-interest driving NSW politics.
Last year, Liberal MP, Scot MacDonald, was referred to the Independent Commission against Corruption for allegedly accepting gifts of flights and accommodation from Santos. Just days after receiving the gift, Macdonald submitted his dissenting statement (p. 328) to the NSW Parliamentary Coal Seam Gas Inquiry Report, which concluded:
It is difficult to reach any other conclusion than the coal seam gas industry should be developed as quickly as possible.
But the real key to understanding what drives the "let ‘er rip!" approach to mining is not just the largesse that the major parties enjoy from the mining industry. Like most keys, it’s a key to a door — a revolving door. Until there are strict restrictions, we’ll continue to see politicians who favour certain industries end up landing themselves a highly paid post in same.
According to NSW Green’s MP, Jeremy Buckingham, the NSW public can no longer distinguish between government, lobbyists and the industry because of the revolving door culture of self-interest on both sides of politics.
Consider the following examples:
John Anderson, former deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals under the Howard Government, served as Chair of Eastern Star Gas (acquired by Santos Ltd).
Mark Vaile, who followed Anderson as deputy prime minister and leader of Nationals, turned up on the board of Aston Resources - now merged with Whitehaven Coal.
Liam Bathgate (Barry O’Farrell’s former chief of staff), is now a lobbyist working for Whitehaven.
Then you have former high ranking politicians like Ian Armstrong (former deputy premier in the Fahey Government and leader of the Nationals) in influential roles where they have facilitated mining serving on consultative committees.
The Nationals' Garry West, who served as energy minister and environment minister (now there’s a balancing act) in the Greiner and Fahey governments, now serves on and chairs some of the planning and assessment commissions charged with considering and recommending for approval today’s massive mining developments.
Is it any wonder the community has lost faith in the system? The mining industry, the bureaucracy, the lobbyists and the government are all parts of the same rotting beast.
There have been attempts at reforms. One of the reforms ushered in after the corruption scandals around planning and development approvals under the former Labor government was a contact register between lobbyists and ministers.
The planning minister and his staff have one — but not the minister for energy & resources, Chris Hartcher. Like Eddie Obeid, Hartcher is the Liberal’s king-maker and leader of the hard right.
The result is a minister who has oversight of mines worth billions of dollars, who refuses to reveal if and when he met with mining lobbyists — in particular disgraced senator, Santo Santoro, according to a question put by Green’s Jeremy Buckingham.
Santoro is still a major powerbroker and registered lobbyist for NSW’s largest coal mining company, the Chinese-owned Yancoal — and Yancoal has large developments on the books that the minister has direct oversight of.
The community would be right to think that this government is repeating the same mistakes of the former Labor government.
The Greens are calling for a complete overhaul of the Mining Act and Petroleum (Onshore) Act by a Royal Commission, especially how it is operated and administered.
Before CSG is given the green light for fracking on farmland, water catchments and (now) in the suburbs of Sydney, the Greens want a referendum.
Interestingly, Martin Ferguson’s brother, Federal Labor MP Laurie Ferguson – whose electorate Werriwa is slated for CSG expansion by AGL – is currently running a petition and leafleting his community against the horrors of CSG. His brother, Martin, on the other hand, is calling for more expansion.
Greens’ Senator and mining spokesperson, Larissa Waters, says she’ll continue to push in Federal Parliament for a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration until there is scientific proof that CSG is safe for our water, health and environment.
Water’s private member’s bill – similar to Windsor’s, but with the power vested solely in the Federal Government – is yet to be voted on. Senator Waters told Independent Australia that she hopes it will get up in the Senate soon.
Back when it was introduced in 2011, Labor and LNP favoured the states retaining control. The sobering events of this week may well change Labor’s view at least.
(Sandi Keane is one of Australia's most tenacious and outstanding investigative journalists, as well an expert on Australia's CSG industry. See expecially Sandi Keane’s investigation into the changing fortunes of the CSG’s LNG export business; the investigation that led to energy giant, Santos, pulling their ad; as well as her CSG story from 2011 that was one of IA's top stories for that year. You can follow Sandi on Twitter @Jarrapin.)
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