Corruption commission investigates coal collusion

NSW premier Barry O'Farrell (centre) at a rally against the Wallarah 2 coalmine.

One of the most important initiatives that can be taken to revitalise manufacturing in NSW is to implement policies that will encourage the rapid development of renewable energy products. The one thing we should not be doing is developing new coalmines.

In 2009, then-opposition leader, Barry O’Farrell, and Central Coast MPs Chris Hartcher, Darren Webber and Chris Spence donned “water not coal” shirts at a rally against the proposed Wallarah 2 coalmine near Wyong. O’Farrell told the rally: “The next Liberal-National government will ensure mining cannot occur here … no ifs, no buts. A guarantee.”

Just before the March 2011 state election, the Labor government denied approval for the project. On February 18 this year, the NSW Department of Planning — now under a Coalition government — recommended that Wallarah 2 be approved.

All three of the Central Coast Liberal MPs are now under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Andrew Humpherson, the chief of staff to former resources minister Chris Hartcher, is now working for the Minerals Council of NSW.

This is despite an ICAC report in November 2010 on corruption risks associated with lobbying. It recommended that former staff of ministers and parliamentary secretaries be prohibited from lobbying activity that related to any matter that they had officially dealt with in their last 12 months of office.

O’Farrell told parliament he was approached twice by prominent Liberal Party member Nicholas Di Girolamo, who is also under investigation by ICAC over allegations of a corrupt relationship with Hartcher, for meetings about Wallarah 2 that he declined to attend.

He was then accused of lying to parliament when it was revealed that he had “dropped in” on a meeting with Di Girolamo, Hartcher and the president of Kores Australia, the company proposing to develop Wallarah 2.

A Fairfax-Nielson poll taken after the ICAC announcement showed Labor leading the Coalition 51% to 49% on a two-party preferred basis. This followed a swing to Labor of 27% in the byelection for the seat of Miranda last October.

Voters in NSW and other states seem increasingly aware that their “choice” at elections is to replace one rotten government with another that soon turns out to be its equal, or more commonly, worse.

What greedy politicians fail to grasp is that their constituents care about their environment.

When explicit election promises can no longer be relied on, trust is replaced by cynicism. In NSW, this will increase in proportion to the parade of politicians appearing before ICAC.