CSG lobbyists: untangling the web of the influence peddlars

by Simone Marsh | Oct 13, 2017 | Energy & Environment, Government

A Vote Compass survey taken during the 2016 federal election reported two-thirds of Australians opposed easing restrictions on CSG exploration, compared with just over half during the previous election. CSG is unpopular with both farmers, environmentalists and, increasingly, most other voters. Following her investigation into Barnaby’s gas bonanza, whistleblower Simone Marsh untangles the web of influence peddlers — the CSG lobbyists.

THE PLANNING phase for east coast CSG-LNG commenced during the Howard LNP innings at the federal level. The present Queensland director of lobby group APPEA, Rhys Turner, was an advisor in the office of PM John Howard and Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull during the planning phase.

In 2009, former federal MPs Santo Santoro, Larry Anthony and the late Con Sciacca founded the three-pronged political lobbying firm — SAS Group. In essence SAS runs extension cords from corporate clients, plugging them into government sockets — to power up and switch on their projects. Lobbyists can facilitate the access that enables corporations to influence or bypass planning and decision-making by elected governments.

Sciacca was a former Queensland-based Labor MP. Anthony is the last in the line of a three-generation family dynasty of NSW-based National Party politicians. Anthony and Sciacca were both defeated at the federal election in 2004. Santo Santoro a Queensland-based Liberal senator and Howard cabinet minister, was dumped in 2007 for breaching the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

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Santoro and Sciacca were born in Sicily. Santoro has also held the role of president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, hosting many guests from the political, business and Italian community. Santoro has also had involvement in the Queensland division of the Australian-American Association (AAA). The Queensland division of the AAA has enjoyed the patronage of Queensland governors past and present. Santoro’s Queensland Liberal faction included George Brandis, currently Liberal Party member of the Australian Senate, leader of the Senate, and attorney-general of Australia.

James McGrath, currently serving as minister assisting the PM, was elected as a Queensland Liberal senator in 2013. McGrath worked for Santos GLNG after being elected to the Senate, but before his July 2014 maiden speech – in which he claimed to wear the shoes of Santo Santoro – he thanked National Party Senator Matthew Canavan (once a Liberal) for his friendship. McGrath had previously worked for Crosby Textor (campaign managers for APPEA) in the UK.

Larry Anthony was the senior vice president of the federal National Party during the east coast CSG-LNG planning, approval and construction phase. He was also a Howard government minister and parliamentary secretary to trade (1998-2004). He presided over the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in Australia from 2005-2012. A former stockbroker, investment banker, Anthony is currently a non-executive director of Queensland GOC SunWater Limited — and federal president of The Nationals.

Larry Anthony’s dual roles as National Party president and gas industry lobbyist attracted media scrutiny in recent days, as the prime minister met with LNG exporters regarding domestic gas reservation.

SAS lobbies for ERM Power, Santos and National Trunk Rail (NTR). NTR is a privately backed consortium and proponent for the Inland Rail Project. Jon Grayson is currently a director at NTR. Grayson was director-general of the Queensland Department of Premier and Cabinet during the Newman LNP government, and a former Queensland Treasury official. Grayson was recently appointed a deputy secretary at New Zealand’s Treasury department.

Director of communications at SAS Group, Malcolm Cole, advised Howard’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer for a brief period in 2007, after a lengthy career at The Courier Mail. Cole joined SAS Group in April 2010, just prior to the Queensland approvals.

Government relations at SAS is led by Lisa Palu, a former state secretary of The Nationals. Palu presided over the Rural Press Club (2008-2013), whilst managing media for Arrow Energy and holding advisory posts within LNP Premier Campbell Newman’s office. Palu’s reign at the Rural Press Club covered the planning, approval and construction phases of CSG-LNG

Lisa Palu joined SAS in time for the 2016 Royal Queensland Show breakfast — where the annual Malcolm McCosker memorial address is delivered. McCosker, a former Queensland Country Life editor, was inducted into the Rural Press Club’s hall of fame in 2010 when his brother’s wife, Penelope Wensley, was governing Queensland. Wensley arrived in the role as governor in 2008, from Foreign Affairs and Trade, coinciding with the beginning of the public EIS process for the first CSG-LNG export projects. When Ms Wensley’s role as Queensland’s 25th governor came to an end, Ian Macfarlane MP appointed her chair of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). Macfarlane also appointed Santos’s Vice President Technical and Engineering Diana Hoff to the AIMS Council.

Founded in 1875, the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA) charter is to “celebrate and champion the essential role agriculture plays” in the lives of Queenslanders. In recent years, the RNA has quietly hosts the upper echelons of the unconventional gas branch. Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) is President of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth.

At Ekka 2009, Governor Wensley served as patron of the ‘Every family needs a farmer’ campaign, with the president of AgForce Queensland, John Cotter. Cotter’s son, John Cotter Jnr, was meanwhile planning a re-launch of his approvals and land acquisitions consultancy to cater for CSG-LNG entry — following a gas field tour of the United States. Deputy Coordinator-General Shane McDowall resigned following BG Group’s EIS sign-off in 2010, and became MD of Cotter Jnr’s Flinders Group consultancy. By 2011, Cotter Jnr had his own desk at BG Group’s office tower on George Street, Brisbane. Cotter Snr was appointed as Queensland’s GasField Commissioner by the Newman LNP government in 2012. London-listed multi-national Hyder Consulting acquired Flinders in 2014.

In 2015, gas industry lobbyist APPEA hosted the Ekka wood chop event. We still don’t know who approved BG Group/QGC’s access to our state forests, or what compensations was paid.

RNA president David Thomas is the brother of Geoffrey Thomas — the diplomat, and “honorary Texan” of George W. Bush. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie appointed Geoffrey Thomas as special commissioner to North America. At the state level, CSG-LNG planning began under Beattie.

David Thomas was appointed by the Newman LNP Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie as Supreme Court Justice for Queensland in 2013, during the period the Crime and Misconduct Commission was “assessing” my complaint regarding illegal CSG approvals.

Increased visits by the British Royals to Queensland coincide with BG Group entry. Reminiscent of November 1942, Brisbane was flooded at the time by UK accents, calling the shots. Union jacks flying out windows of Kangaroo Point high-rises, Irishmen urinating over verandahs. Then they left. A disconnect with the land and community is necessary to do the dirty work. Ireland has banned on-shore fracking in recent months. Scotland’s energy minister this week announced an existing ban on unconventional gas extraction would continue indefinitely due to “overwhelming” opposition.

Tony Bellas, also a former Queensland Treasury official, became director of ERM Power in 2009 and was involved in its ASX float. Reportedly, 30 per cent of issued shares went to Brian Flannery and Duncan Travers — both of NSW ICAC Cascade Coal fame.

Bellas was a director of the Queensland subsidiary of Australian Water Holdings — also of NSW ICAC fame. Bellas, in partnership with Grayson, was involved in a Gasfields Water Management venture with Australian Water. Liberal MP Arthur Sinodinos testified at ICAC that former Liberal Senator Santo Santoro had asked for a role at Australian Water, Queensland.

Grayson wrote to Bellas, Eddie Obeid Junior and Nick Di Girolamo in 2011:

“I believe that the core of our proposal is the water collection and distribution system… It is analogous to the electricity industry with our pipe network being equivalent to power generators which utilize the monopoly/common user transmission and distribution system.”

ERM Power was the largest shareholder in Metgasco, the company that accepted $25 million from the NSW LNP government in 2015 as settlement for cancellation of its Northern Rivers gas tenement, following a sustained community protest at Bentley.

Investigation: Barnaby’s gas bonanza and the pervading influence of the gas lobby

Secret payment potential

I met Queensland LNP Senators James McGrath, Matthew Canavan and Ian MacDonald on 28 November 2014 as a former public servant called to give evidence at a Senate Inquiry.

Included in the submission was an anonymous email from June 2013, forwarded after I appeared as a whistleblower on ABC Four CornersGasLeak!’ program. The author claimed to be a company insider, and claimed a former 2010 federal Minister and his partner

got a look at the [gas project’s pipeline] alignment prior to submission of the Environmental Impact Assessment… relative, fake companies or themselves purchased properties along the alignment.”

The author inferred the pair received secret payments of “$1,000 per metre per pipe per month for land access” — whereas other landowners received “a once off slab of beer”. These claims, although unverified, demonstrate the potential for profiteering.

When requested that the email be forwarded to the Australian Federal Police, the committee secretary responded:

“the committee may wish to consider your request at a private meeting. However, please be advised that if the committee does decide to refer the information you provided to the AFP, the AFP cannot use the evidence in the course of its investigations or for the purpose of any subsequent legal proceedings as the evidence is protected by parliamentary privilege”.

Transparency International’s latest report on corruption risks

Transparency International Australia (TI) has just released a damning report into corruption risks in the mining approvals process in Australia.

The report found the existing system of checks and balances failed to deliver effective transparency and accountability in the exploration license and mining lease and approvals regime. Also, inadequate regulation of political donations and lobbyists, the movement of staff between government and industry and the culture of mateship were significant factors leading to  undue influence in the approval of State Agreements in Western Australia and Queensland. In the Summary, under the heading Avenues for Influence, TI highlights the problem:

“Revolving doors can be between lobbyists and government representatives and officials, and industry and government representatives and officials. Australia takes considerable pride in the ethos of mateship as a defining national characteristic. Yet, this lauded attribute can create a corruption vulnerability in the mining approvals process when the relationships, and revolving doors between government, industry and lobbyists are examined. In investigations into mining corruption and misconduct in Queensland, Western Australia and NSW, and subsequent convictions in Queensland and NSW, the friendship, or the lack of it, between politicians and miners or their lobbyists was raised as a defence.”

As CEO Serena Lillywhite summed up in the foreword:

“Greater regulation of political donations, lobbyists and the movement of staff between government and industry, would help reduce risks that could enable corruption to occur.”

Accountability, the law, and a case for a federal corruption watchdog

In July 2017, The Australia Institute conducted a survey of parliamentarians’ principles of good governance, as outlined by the Hon Tony Fitzgerald AC QC. Fifty-three agreed with the Fitzgerald Principles, 36 declined to participate and 137 did not reply. Two years prior, In Queensland, all political parties except the LNP agreed to commit to Fitzgerald’s principles

The Trust Deficit: trust in our political class is in free-fall

In August 2017, The Australia Institute published findings that no federal agency has the power to investigate misconduct of MPs, cabinet ministers or the judiciary. Further, no federal agency has the power to investigate corrupt conduct in the federal government or public sector.

A federal anti-corruption commission is overdue.

Editor’s Note:

Simone Marsh was a senior environmental analyst with the Queensland Co-ordinator General. After filing her report on the environmental effects of the proposed LNG industry in June 2010, she walked out of her job and was not heard of again in the media until she testified as a whistleblower at the Queensland government parliamentary inquiry into Queensland government administration of Commonwealth government affairs in November 2014.

Simone Marsh was a senior environmental analyst with the Queensland Co-ordinator General. After filing her report on the environmental effects of the proposed LNG industry in June 2010, she walked out of her job and was not heard of again in the media until she testified as a whistleblower at the Queensland government parliamentary inquiry into Queensland government administration of Commonwealth government affairs in November 2014.

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