A new report, Greasing the Wheels, examines six highly controversial Queensland resource projects and reveals a pattern of political donations, remarkable access to ministers, unaccountable lobbying, cash for access, and the revolving door between the bureaucracy and industry.
All of these projects received extraordinary outcomes including policy changes, project approvals and even legislative changes.
The report also highlights the strong connection of these companies to Queensland and federal political parties.
Most of the political donations examined in the report went to the Liberal Party of Australia, which accepted $1.75 million from companies associated with just four highly controversial Queensland resource projects.
The Queensland LNP accepted $1.2 million from resource companies over this period.
The Palaszczcuk Government has taken the commendable step of committing to real time disclosure of political donations, however this can be easily circumvented by donations being made to federal parties who simply transfer the money back to state branches.
However, the report highlights that little else has changed with the current government. The Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Anthony Lynham met 87 times with the mining and resources industry in 2015, which is 50 per cent more than his predecessor Minister Andrew Cripps during 2013.
The government also ignored calls from the current and former Integrity Commissioners and the independent Coaldrake Inquiry to reform the ineffective lobbying register.
One of the projects approved under the former government, the Linc Energy Underground Coal Gasification plant on Queensland’s Darling Downs, resulted in widespread contamination over 320 square kilometres of farmland, leading to this type of mining being banned in the state and charges being laid against the company.
Linc donated $320,000 to the federal liberal party and Queensland LNP and gained remarkable access to government officials at all levels.
“The secrecy and opaque nature of political donations undermines the integrity of processes and creates an enabling environment for poor decision making with the potential for corruption,” said Phil Newman, CEO of Transparency International.
“Political donations should be completely transparent, preferably disclosed in real time and publicly available at all times.
“Companies should not channel political donations through third parties without fully disclosing all participating donors.”
“By documenting how Queensland mining companies use money to influence government decision-making in order to advance their commercial interests – at times at odds with the interest of the broader community – the report shines a powerful spotlight on the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Associate Professor Joo Cheong Tham from the Melbourne Law School.
“The case studies in this report could be just the tip of the iceberg,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Hannah Aulby.
“A public inquiry is needed to uncover the full influence of the mining industry on government decision-making.
“Controls should be strengthened so the community’s interests don’t keep getting buried under political donations from the mining industry.”
“This isn’t just some abstract principle at stake,” said Mark Ogge of the Australia Institute. “These projects have very serious impacts on the water, the environment and communities.
“Governments are charged with making decisions in the best interest of the community.
“The systematic weaknesses that enable this kind of undue influence are corroding our democracy.”
Greasing the Wheels report by ACF and the Australia Institute
Qld mining companies’ extraordinary access to government (opinion piece by Hannah Aulby)