Friday, 15 August 2014

Undeclared political donation to the Liberal Party by AGL Energy comes to light


NSW Premier and Liberal MP Mike Baird, Planning Minister and Liberal MP Pru Goward, NSW Nationals MP for Upper Hunter George Souris and, perhaps even Federal Nationals MP for Lyne David Gillespie, all have questions to answer.

So too does Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s current adviser on resources issues, Sarah McNamara, who as AGL Energy Ltd’s Head of Government Affairs signed the official AEC political donations declarations for 2010-11 and 2011-12. Ms. McNamara appears to have also been a ministerial adviser during the Howard Government years and beyond, moving back into the private sector when Liberal Senator Helen Coonan’s term in the Senate was drawing to an end in 2011.

The Sydney Morning Herald 11 August 2014:

Energy giant supplier AGL gave almost $100,000 to the NSW Labor and Liberal parties while seeking approval to drill 110 coal seam gas wells near Gloucester on the mid-north coast, but only half of those donations were apparently disclosed to the Planning Department making the decision.

AGL's then head of government affairs Sarah McNamara – now an adviser to Prime Minister Tony Abbott – declared on May 13, 2010, that the company had made four political donations over the “relevant” two-year period totalling $48,250.

The funds were split $26,250 to Labor and $22,000 to the Liberals, who were then in opposition. However, the declaration omitted $11,000 donated for membership to the Liberal Party’s now discredited Millennium Forum on October 1, 2008.

Between the application and its approval by the Planning Assessment Commission on February 22, 2011, AGL donated a further $39,300. Of that, Labor received two donations of $13,750 and the bulk of the remainder went to the Liberals, including for several meals with then opposition leader and later premier Barry O’Farrell, who won a landslide victory in the subsequent March 2011 elections.

Details of the donations were compiled from public election funding records by Groundswell Gloucester, a local group opposed to AGL’s plans.

The group made no allegation that the donations swayed the final decision to approve drilling. However, they had engaged the Environmental Defenders Office NSW, which last week wrote to Planning Minister Pru Goward seeking an investigation by her department.

“The disclosure of donations to political parties made by proponents is a requirement of any planning system that has integrity,” said Sue Higginson, a principal solicitor at the EDO, who added the Independent Commission Against Corruption – now examining a series of donation issues – had said disclosure was essential for planning matters.

By coincidence, the EDO letter was sent the same day Energy Minister Anthony Roberts extended AGL’s CSG exploration permit for Gloucester by six years and approved hydraulic fracturing – fracking – of wells within a few hundred metres of homes.

“We call upon the Energy Minister to immediately suspend all AGL operations until there’s a full enquiry into the whole process of approval,” said John Watts, a barrister and Groundswell Gloucester spokesman. The probe should also include “whatever donations were received up until the renewal of the licence a few days ago, and the approval of the fracking”.

A spokeswoman for AGL dismissed the claims as “one of a number of claims that anti-CSG activists have raised”.

“At the time that AGL lodged the Part 3A major project application for the Gloucester Gas Project on 30 July 2008, there was no statutory obligation to lodge a political donations statement,” the spokeswoman said. The company had also updated the donation list on July 27 this year.

Details were being sought of the more recent donations, which were yet to be made public. An explanation was also being sought on why AGL's voluntary declaration in 2010 was apparently incomplete – omitting the $11,000 Millennium Forum donation – and not updated to include the $39,300 in gifts prior to the project winning approval….


BACKGROUND

Groundswell Gloucester media release 8 July 2014:

NSW Government changes law to fast-track CSG fracking at Gloucester
The NSW government is attempting to sneak through changes to gas drilling regulations that will hasten approvals for a coal seam gas project at Gloucester and allow fracking to start less than 400 metres from family homes, warned Lock the Gate Alliance and Groundswell Gloucester today.
Hunter regional coordinator for Lock the Gate Steve Phillips said the proposed changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extraction Industries) 2007 were quietly uploaded to the planning department's website last week. The amendments are on exhibition until July 16th.
One part of the proposed amendments appears specifically designed to allow AGL to get approval for an exploratory fracking project near Gloucester, without completing a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
“This amendment appears quite innocuous at first glance but careful examination reveals it will clear the way for AGL to begin fracking at Gloucester without completing a full EIS,” Mr Phillips said. “That appears to be the sole purpose of this particular amendment.”
“AGL are seeking approval to conduct exploratory fracking at four gas wells next to family homes in Gloucester”, said John Watts, spokesperson for Groundswell Gloucester. “We wrote to the government months ago pointing out that under current regulations, a full EIS is required due to the proximity of other gas wells to the proposed fracking project. We had no response from the Government on this matter until this week – when they announced their intention to change the law for AGL's benefit.”
“The proposed amendments will allow the Government to give AGL the green light for this project without completing a full EIS. How can the NSW Government allow AGL to conduct fracking operations so close to family homes, without even making them do a proper environment study?", asked Mr Watts.
“This is the latest example of the state government bending to the demands of the coal and gas industries at the expense of the public interest,” said Phillips.
“The changes don’t need to go to parliament and could be put into planning regulations with little public scrutiny. This is not open and transparent government.
“Lock the Gate calls on the government to abandon its continual backdoor attempts to bring in policies that only benefit mining interests and instead to uphold the public’s right to full disclosure and full environmental assessment of high risk projects.”
Contact:
* Steve Phillips, Lock The Gate Alliance: 0437 275 119
* John Watts, Groundswell Gloucester: 0438 346 544


Less than a fortnight before resumption of a corruption inquiry examining its election funding activities, the NSW Liberals have launched a new forum to raise political donations.
The Federal Forum was registered as a business name with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission on Wednesday. 
It is understood the new body will replace the discredited Millennium Forum, which gained notoriety during recent public hearings at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
In public hearings in May, ICAC heard that senior Liberal Party officials used the Millennium Forum and another Liberal-linked entity, the Free Enterprise Foundation, to funnel prohibited donations, including from property developers, into the 2011 NSW election campaign.
It is alleged donations prohibited under NSW law were instead made to the Free Enterprise Foundation, a federal body. The Free Enterprise Foundation would then donate to the NSW Liberals' state campaign.

The Sydney Morning Herald 7 August 2014:

“There’s no coal seam gas exclusion up here, no gateway, no protection, no buffer," said Ms Lyford, referring to the two-kilometre exclusion zone from homes that the government has imposed on AGL’s CSG operations near Camden in Sydney’s southwest.
Ms Lyford said Minister Anthony Roberts’ office rang on Wednesday to inform Groundswell Gloucester the fracking had been approved, and within three hours AGL had begun moving heavy machinery to the site.

UPDATE

AGL media release 14 August 2014:

* In relation to Stage 1 of the Gloucester Gas Project, AGL has reported the substantial majority of political donations made in NSW.  However, Deloitte found two instances of political donations, totalling $250, that were not reported.... * In relation to the [Gloucester Gas Project Pipeline] Modification, three political donations totalling $11,000 have been identified which were reported, but not within seven days of each donation being made.  Consequently, AGL has failed to fully comply with the EPA Act.....
The review undertaken by Deloitte has highlighted some deficiencies in AGL’s processes for making, recording and reporting on a timely and consistent basis details of political donations made by AGL.  AGL will co-operate fully with the Department to identify any and all breaches of its reporting obligations.
Measures to improve internal controls and compliance in respect of political donations will be implemented.

1 comment:

John Fraser said...

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Up here in Queensland the CSG industry knows how to win (buy ?) over the great uneducated :

http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/UQ-centre-for-CSG-attracts-3m-in-funding-for-r/2353145/