THE cosy and often secretive relationship between political parties and their donors in the mining industry has been highlighted in a report that looks at six controversial projects in Queensland including Adani’s Carmichael mine.
“All of these projects received extraordinary outcomes including policy changes, project approvals and even legislative changes,” a statement from The Australia Institute says.
The Greasing the Wheels report, which was co-authored by the Australian Conservation Foundation, found there were “systematic” issues with how governments were dealing with mining approvals in Queensland.
Dr Belinda Edwards of the University of NSW, said the study demonstrated how political donations, specifically cash-for-access fundraising by political parties, corroded democracy.
“It demonstrates that money doesn’t just buy access, it buys outcomes,” Dr Edwards said in the report.
The report found mining companies seeking approval for six controversial mining projects in Queensland, gave more than $2 million in political donations to the Liberal and National parties at both state and federal levels.
“These mining projects all gained extraordinary access to government ministers and extraordinary outcomes,” the report states.
They included Beach Energy’s plans for unconventional gas in the Cooper Basin, Sibelco’s sand mine on North Stradbroke Island, Karreman Quarries, the Acland Stage 3 coal mine, Adani’s Carmichael mine and underground coal gasification trial projects in Chinchilla and Bloodwood Creek.
“These outcomes included legislative changes to remove environmental protections, federal and state government approval of projects despite serious environmental concerns, and even retrospective approval of illegal mining activities,” the report stated.
But political donations are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Sibelco sand mine on Stradbroke Island. Source: Supplied
Freebies and gifts as mundane as chocolates and bottles of wine, to tickets to the ballet, opera or networking conferences, and access to a corporate box at the footy were also distributed.
There’s no restriction on accepting gifts in Queensland, as long as those costing more than $150 are recorded.
But the report noted that the gifts created a “personal dimension” to working relationships and a potential feeling of obligation. The intimacy created at dinners or a football match may make it difficult to make impartial decisions.
“It is unrealistic to claim that such familiarity is not accompanied by a degree of confidence, support and favour,” the report said.
In contrast to community groups, mining companies got access to all levels of government through sometimes “secret” meetings, informal events and political fundraisers.
It’s hard to know the full extent of these meetings because in-house lobbyists and industry associations are not covered by Queensland’s regulations on lobbyists, which means their meetings with public servants (except for ministers) are not made publicly available.
It’s also unclear whether subscriptions to political fundraising forums where people can get access to government ministers are made public.
Another cause for concern was how many mining industry employees regularly job-swapped with others in government departments, without having to take a break between working for a mining company and working for government.
The report was critical of the “special treatment” the Newman Government gave to mining companies.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman with Indian businessman Gautam Adani and Federal Minister for Trade Martin Ferguson on a visit to Mundra Port in Gujurat owned and operated by the Adani family. Picture: Graham Crouch
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman with Indian businessman Gautam Adani and Federal Minister for Trade Martin Ferguson on a visit to Mundra Port in Gujurat owned and operated by the Adani family. Picture: Graham CrouchSource:News Corp Australia
Of particular concern was the scale of the donations during the Newman era, including $1 million in 2010/11 from in-kind support, subscriptions and direct cash donations.
A further $3 million was donated to the Liberal Party of Australia.
These donations were received from companies that were pursuing highly controversial projects.
While the Labor Party in Queensland also accepted donations, it got much less — just $94,410 between 2011 and 2015, while its federal counterpart got $1.2 million.
But it also found there had been little change to the way most of the projects were being handled by the Palaszczuk Government.
The report noted that about $9 billion in Queensland taxpayers’ money was spent on subsidies for the mining industry in the six years to 2014.
It said the six projects it examined would lead to poor outcomes for Queenslanders including drawdown in important groundwater aquifers, clearing of strategic cropping land, air pollution with fine particle pollution and negative impacts on other industries such as agriculture and tourism.
Beach Energy has plans for unconventional gas in the Cooper Basin and contributed $193,300 in political donations over four years. It also enjoyed several high level meetings with ministers and the Queensland Premier.
After it was elected the Newman Government revoked Wild River Declarations in the Cooper Creek, Diamantina and Georgina Rivers basins, which would have limited unconventional gas mining in these areas.
This decision, along with the release of extra petroleum exploration areas will increase the risk of negative impacts on the Lake Eyre Basin and sustainable beef cattle industry.
Beach Energy’s Cooper Basin oil and gas fields. Residue oil is separated from water in ponds, an initial separation after coming up through an oil well at Butlers.
This company operates a large sand mine on North Stradbroke Island and is estimated to have spent more than $1 million on influencing political decision making, running a campaign to gain support for continuing its activities. Its official political donations in Queensland were $93,840 over two years.
Its lobbyist met with ministerial advisers and other government departments, and there was also a campaign of TV ads, cinema, print and online advertising and letterbox drop.
Sand mining on the island was due to be phased out by 2019 but the Newman Government extended this to 2035 and also increased the area available for mining by 300 per cent. The cut-off date was restored to 2019 by the Palaszczuk Government.
Before 2014, Karreman had been extracting sand and gravel illegally from the Upper Brisbane River for many years, which caused erosion of properties upstream.
It donated $75,000 over two years up to 2011/12.
It was reportedly facing legal action from a state government department in 2014 but was saved at the “eleventh hour” by amendments to the laws that effectively approved its mining activities retrospectively. The founder of the company met with then Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney in December 2013 to discuss the Mining Act.
Then-Opposition leader Tony Abbott visiting Karreman Quarries at Mt Cotton in 2010. Picture: Tim Marsden
Three companies hold a potential interest in coal mines Acland Stage 3 and Colton Coal. They donated $1.3 million over four years, and had at least seven meetings with Newman Government ministers.
In the lead-up to the 2010 election, the LNP made strong commitments that the Acland Stage 3 coal mine would not proceed because of the impact it would have on farming land on the Darling Downs, but later approved a revised mine plan in 2014. This plan will destroy some 1300ha of Strategic Cropping Land, cause groundwater to drop by up to 50m and may impact 350 water bores.
The government also changed legislation in 2014 that removed the rights of community groups to challenge the project in the Queensland Land Court. Labor restored these rights but also approved an environmental amendment to the project in 2015.
New Hope also overturned a previously stalled approval process for Colton Coal mine near Aldershot.
New Hope’s mine near the former town of Acland, near Oakey on the Darling Downs of Queensland. It has been cleared of most of its houses, due to the establishment of the Acland coal mine, an open-cut coalmine less than 2km from the town centre. Picture: Tran Jack
New Hope’s mine near the former town of Acland, near Oakey on the Darling Downs of Queensland. It has been cleared of most of its houses, due to the establishment of the Acland coal mine, an open-cut coalmine less than 2km from the town centre. Picture: Tran JackSource:News Limited
It donated $70,300 over three years and obtained 12 meetings with Newman Government ministers.
Despite the appalling environmental track record Adani has overseas, and the impacts its proposed Carmichael mine could have including damaging the Great Barrier Reef, the project moved easily through the assessment process.
There also appears to be inconsistencies over the ownership of the company Adani Abbot Point Terminal Pty Ltd, that creates confusion over who would ultimately be responsible for ensuring environmental conditions are met.
Qld mines minister Anthony Lynham (left), Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Adani CEO Jeyakumar Janakara to announce the go ahead of the Carmichael Mine. Picture: Tim Marsden
Qld mines minister Anthony Lynham (left), Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Adani CEO Jeyakumar Janakara to announce the go ahead of the Carmichael Mine. Picture: Tim MarsdenSource:News Corp Australia
LINC ENERGY AND CARBON ENERGY
They contributed $337,999 since 2010/11. Lobbyists have met with key department staff five times.
Linc Energy runs an underground coal gasification trial project known as the Chinchilla Demonstration Facility. The public raised serious concerns about the plant as early as 2011 but no action was taken. The Newman Government commissioned a report in 2013 that found no environmental issues in Chinchilla or at another Bloodwood Creek site. But UCG was banned this year in recognition of the environmental harm these trials caused.
A Supreme Court hearing found there had been ongoing toxic gas leaks into the air and groundwater since 2008.
Linc Energy entered into voluntary administration in April this year, leaving at least $29 million in clean-up costs unpaid.
The report has made five recommendations to prevent further erosion of public trust due to the undue influence of the mining industry on the Queensland Government.
1. A Special Commission of Inquiry to investigate the influence of the mining industry on public decision-making in the state.
2. Improve the regulation of lobbyists to include in-house lobbyists and industry associations, and to ensure that agendas, minutes and notes from meetings are placed on the public record.
3. Stricter controls on post-separation employment and on the provision of gifts and benefits.
4. Real time disclosure of political donations and contributions (which the Queensland Government announced this month it would introduce in 2017), a ban on donations from the mining industry, an end to ‘cash for access’ schemes, and a strict cap on all other donations.
5. Expand the powers of the Crime and Corruption Commission to include official misconduct, the provision of advice on corruption prevention, and for public hearings.