When Queensland goes to the polls next Saturday they will be voting for their future – the future of their freedom, their democracy, their environment, the Great Barrier Reef, and their children.
Because of Queensland’s chequered political history and the behaviour of the current government, all political parties were recently asked to acknowledge good governance obligations expressed in very simple terms; that is, to:
- make all decisions and take all actions, including public appointments, in the public interest without regard to personal, party political or other immaterial considerations;
- treat all people equally without permitting any person or corporation special access or influence; and
- promptly and accurately inform the public of its reasons for all significant or potentially controversial decisions and actions
Bizarrely, the Liberal National Party alone refused to commit to those constraints or to explain its reasons though Newman, under pressure at the leader’s debate, seemed to change his mind (possibly).
It is effectively telling voters that, if it is elected, it will do as it pleases; in effect, it will continue the behaviour which marked its first term and led to its heavy losses in recent by-elections.
With its single house of Parliament and history of political malpractice, Queensland is especially vulnerable to the misuse of political power.
In an article titled “Queensland political ethics: a perfect oxymoron”, Tony Fitzgerald recently said of the Newman government
“During its brief term in power, the present government treated the community with contempt. From behind a populist facade, it engaged in nepotism, sacked, stacked and otherwise reduced the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, subverted and weakened the state’s anti-corruption commission, made unprecedented attacks on the courts and the judiciary, appointed a totally unsuitable chief justice, reverted to selecting male judges almost exclusively and, from a position of lofty ignorance, dismissed its critics for their effrontery.”
The Q Forum has raised millions of dollars for the Queensland LNP and helped make the party the richest single political organisation in the country, according to the latest Australian Electoral Commission figures.
In July the LNP changed electoral disclosure laws to increase the threshold at which donations had to be declared, from $1,000 to $12,400.
The figure has since been inflation-adjusted to $12,800.
As a result, public disclosures of donations have become far less detailed.
Former Fitzgerald Inquiry special counsel Gary Crooke, who helped jail Queensland government ministers over corruption in the 1980s, described fundraising by charging for access to ministers as a “cancer” that kept coming back in politics and a betrayal of a fundamental public trust.
“They’re at it again with bells on, running these things where they are selling no more and no less than the community’s property that they hold in trust, in order to feather the coffers of a political party,” he said.
Mr Crooke, who also served as Queensland Integrity Commissioner, said such practices were “so unethical and so much in breach of fundamental duty that there should be a law prohibiting it”.
Now we have the bizarre situation of Campbell Newman (and others) suing Alan Jones for his allegations that Newman lied to him about the New Hope mine before the last election.
The decision to allow Acland to mine another 3m tonnes of coal a year was announced on the Friday before Christmas.
New Hope and its parent company, Washington H Soul Pattinson, donated more than $700,000 to the LNP at a state and federal level between 2011 and 2013.
Asked if New Hope’s donations influenced the government’s approval, Newman said: “I will not be commenting on Alan Jones.”
Asked by Guardian Australia if LNP officials had indicated whether the party’s donations had risen since it raised the secrecy threshold, Newman replied that he had “no idea”.
Ian Walker took a donation from a board director of New Hope Coal before his election in 2012 and, as the minister for science, information technology, innovation and the arts, subsequently oversaw the department which cleared levels of air pollution from uncovered coal trains in Brisbane before the expansion of New Hope’s Acland mine.
The pollution study by Walker’s department was released to companies including New Hope a week before it was made public in 2013.
Clean Air Queensland’s organiser Michael Kane claimed the government study clearing the pollution levels by averaging emissions over 24 hours was “absolutely the wrong methodology.”
New Hope’s chairman, Robert Millner, was called before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) in NSW last year over a donations controversy involving another Washington H Soul Pattinson subsidiary of which he was chairman, Brickworks.
Jones has also attacked the government over the energy minister, Mark McArdle, and the environment minister, Andrew Powell, accepting entertainment from New Hope in its corporate box at a Wallabies rugby game in Brisbane in 2013.
But what can we expect when the head of corporate affairs for a mining company has been in charge of developing policy on the environment for Queensland’s ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) since 2012.
James Mackay also worked full-time for the LNP during the 2012 election, while he was being paid $10,000 a month by the company, QCoal.
Mr Mackay has chaired the LNP’s state environment and heritage protection committee, which develops policy for discussion at the party’s annual conference, since being voted on to the committee in 2012.
Shortly after coming to power in 2012 the LNP introduced a bill to remove “green tape” or what it considered to be unnecessary or superfluous environmental regulation.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said at the time that the state was “in the coal business” and if people wanted new schools and hospitals they had to accept that the state needed royalties from coal mining.
QCoal boss Mr Wallin gave $120,000 to the party in two donations just before the 2012 state election.
Campbell Newman is trying to tell us that mining will boost employment. In 2013-14 it did not even rate in the top ten employers by industry with about a quarter of the number of people employed in health care and social assistance.
The mining lobby keeps telling us about the great contribution it makes to the Australian economy. There is a lot of exaggeration in this and often much worse.
- As Ross Gittins in the SMH and others point out mining accounts for about 10% of our national production, but only 2% of employment. The large increase in mining investment in recent years has mainly been to purchase equipment from overseas.
- About 80% of our very profitable mining industry is foreign owned. BHP/Biliton is 76% foreign owned, RioTinto 83% and Xstrata 100%. This means that 80% of mining profits accrue to foreign shareholders and not to Australians. In this situation it is important for the owners of the minerals; we Australians, that we get some worthwhile return either in taxes or royalties.
- State governments do receive royalties from mining companies for the exploitation of our national resources, but they hand a lot back to the mining companies. According to the Australia Institute, the states gave the mining companies $3.2 billion in concessions last year – mainly in providing railway infrastructure and freight discounts. In Queensland, these concessions or subsidies were equivalent to about 60% of the royalties the Queensland government received.
- Michael West in the SMH on 27 April 2014 points out that Australia’s largest coal miner, Glencore/Xstrata paid no company tax at all over the last three years despite an income of $15 billion. According to West it achieved this remarkable result of paying no company tax by paying 9% interest on $3.4 billion in loans from overseas associates. This 9% incidentally was about double the interest it would have had to pay in the open market or from a bank. Having paid 9% on these borrowings to load up its “costs” in Australia it then lent money to ‘related parties’ interest-free. We are not told who these related parties were. But there is more. Apparently there has been a large increase in Glencore’s coal sales to ‘related companies’ from 27% to 46%. This would seem to indicate transfer pricing to shift income to lower tax countries. In this regard Michael West reported on the complex Glencore company structure. ‘The Glencore structure is now run as a series of business units controlled by one company [Glencore/Xstrata Plc) which is incorporated in the UK, listed on the London and other stock exchanges, with its registered office in Jersey (a tax haven) and its headquarters in Baar, Switzerland. It is probably all legal but is it right?
Indian-based company Adani has a large mine proposal at Carmichael in the Gallilee Basin and needs to build a rail line 388 kilometres to Abbott Point port where the coal will be exported. Campbell Newman has offered $300 million of taxpayer funds to build the railway despite Adani having trouble finding finance for its mining operation with most financiers saying it is not commercially viable.
Adani plans to export 100 million tonnes a year of coal to India and provide 2400 jobs.
Adani’s chief executive Sandeep Mahta estimates their coal plant generates more than $6 billion in royalties for the Queensland Government in its first decade of operation.
Reef tourism generates over 60,000 jobs and $6 billion a year in revenue to the Queensland economy.
If you agree with Campbell that the coal business is your future and you are prepared to sacrifice the Reef and the revenue and tourism jobs it sustains for a project that the banks won’t touch then you will probably vote for the Coalition. Get back to me on how that works out.
PS Could we please have less public kissing.