The next NSW government will be confronted with a bloc of crossbenchers in the upper house, possibly holding the balance of power, who are demanding millions of dollars in compensation for innocent victims of an ICAC-driven expropriation of private property.
They have signed a pledge acknowledging that 3400 innocent shareholders in mining company NuCoal Resources were “unfairly and unreasonably dispossessed of their investments” by special legislation enacted by the NSW parliament.
The document they have signed states the NSW parliament did not fully understand the consequences for the company’s shareholders of the cancellation of its coal exploration licence in January 2014.
The legislation cancelling that licence, while ostensibly giving effect to an Independent Commission Against Corruption recommendation, made no mention of ICAC’s associated call for innocent parties to be compensated.
No accusation of wrongdoing has ever been made against NuCoal.
The pledge, drawn up by NuCoal Resources, has been signed by two sitting members of the Legislative Council — the Christian Democratic Party’s Fred Nile and Paul Green — and two candidates in this month’s election — David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats and Mark Latham of One Nation.
The document states: “We advise the incoming government that they must address this legacy injustice as part of their initial legislative program. We are committed to innocent NuCoal shareholders receiving just compensation as recommended by the ICAC for the cancelling of their exploration licence.
“We commit to placing compensation as a priority for business of both the upper and lower houses.
“We call upon the premier and leader of the opposition to join with us to support an objective compensation process,” the document adds.
NuCoal chairman Gordon Galt called on the NSW government to treat his company’s shareholders in the same manner as shareholders in other companies that had been compensated when the state resumed their coal exploration licences.
NSW agreed in 2016 to pay BHP Billiton $220 million to buy back its Carooma licence to protect Liverpool Plains farmland.
The following year, the state paid back $262m to Chinese mining company Shenhua when it scaled back another coal exploration licence to protect the Liverpool Plains.
Mr Galt said his company’s priority was compensation for shareholders who included many families in the NSW Hunter Valley who had lost significant sums when the government cancelled NuCoal’s licence.
“We want, at the very least, all of our money back and some recognition of the value added that we put in, and that number is somewhere north of $100m,” Mr Galt said.
He said the move was not aimed at overturning the cancellation of the licence but aimed to have parliament address ICAC’s recommendation that innocent parties should be compensated.
One of those who has signed the NuCoal pledge is Mr Leyonhjelm, who is moving from the federal Senate to stand for the Liberal Democrats in the NSW upper house.
He believed crossbenchers would probably hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council.
“It doesn’t matter who wins,” Mr Leyonhjelm said. “They are going to be subject to the crossbench in the Legislative Council.
“I have been well aware of this issue for ages.
“This is an egregious example of private property being ignored and removed with no compensation. Private property is probably the most important thing that a government should protect.”
The pledge document states parliament enacted legislation cancelling NuCoal’s exploration licence “without fully understanding the consequences on NuCoal shareholders, notwithstanding a recommendation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption that compensation to innocent parties be considered”.
NuCoal obtained the licence when it bought Doyles Creek Mining, chaired by former mining union leader John Maitland, 14 months after that company had been allocated the licence by then mining minister Ian Macdonald.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption later urged the government to cancel the licence and compensate the innocent because it believed the process of allocating it to Doyles Creek had been corrupt.
The government, with the support of the Labor opposition, cancelled the licence in 2014, long before any of the accusations had been tested in court.
The NSW Court of Appeal last month quashed the convictions of Mr Macdonald and Mr Maitland over the way in which the licence had been issued. They have been freed from prison pending a retrial.
The ICAC report that formed the basis for the cancellation also made corruption findings against Doyles Creek directors Mike Chester and Andrew Poole, who have never been charged with any offence.
Another Doyles Creek director, Craig Ransley, had been accused of corruption by ICAC but was exonerated in court in 2017.
Chris Merritt, Legal Affairs Editor
WTF (used with permission)