OPERATION ACACIA AND NUCOAL
The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS (18:05): In the past few weeks I have been looking at Operation Acacia, the NuCoal expropriation and the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC]. I want to bring it all together in one final five-minute speech and look at the evidence I have adduced. This Parliament, through an Act of Parliament, took a property from a private company and claimed it was done on the basis of an ICAC recommendation. That claim from the then Premier was false: ICAC did not recommend that the property be taken from NuCoal without compensation. It did recommend that the property be taken, but with compensation because even the ICAC considered NuCoal to be innocent investors in the scheme. ICAC only recommended that it be expropriated because then Premier Barry O’Farrell intervened during the investigation and leaned on Commissioner Ipp to move in that direction.
The ICAC investigation itself was a disaster from the start. The claims that the original exploration licence [EL] was corruptly given is false. There was no relationship between Maitland and Macdonald other than a purely tangential one, so that claim is false. There was a claim by the ICAC that the EL was given as payback for support from the mining division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union [CFMEU]—that is false. There was a claim that there was some sort of financial benefit or nepotism which was not, in fact, raised by the ICAC, because not even ICAC could find any of that, but it was raised by Justice Adamson, only to have her summarily dismiss that. In fact, in her summing up statement to the jury Justice Adamson made it quite clear that there was no motive whatsoever which could be adduced to Macdonald for the awarding of the licence. Be that as it may, there are allegations from the ICAC that the deal was dodgy because Macdonald did not take it to Cabinet. We know from the private testimonies of both former Premiers Keneally and Rees, which were never released by the ICAC, that it did not have to be taken to Cabinet.
There is also a claim from the ICAC that Macdonald knew that there were large coal reserves there, but that is also false. The coal reserves were only speculated upon, and the geologist who speculated upon them got it wrong himself. It was only by a fluke drilling operation that the substantial reserves of coking coal were discovered in the Whynot, rather than the Whybrow, coal seam. There was a claim that it could not have been a valid training mine because it only had one training panel. That is perhaps the most spurious and stupid of all the ICAC claims because it is only going to have one training panel. When that training panel is mined out, you move on to a second training panel; when that is mined out you move on to a third training panel.
The idea that, because only one training panel was scheduled in the original mine, it was somehow a fraudulent attempt to gain control of a resource is false.
ICAC also claimed that it must have been dodgy because Macdonald sought out third party endorsements. Again, Nathan Rees made it clear in his private testimony that he asked Macdonald to get third party endorsements. Everywhere you look, the ICAC investigation is a disaster. It is an abortion. Craig Ransley has now won two court cases against ICAC. The judge in Poole v Chubb said there was “not a scintilla of evidence” that Ian Macdonald had done anything corrupt. That case was essentially a refighting of the issues in a proper court of law with proper rules of evidence.
The simple fact is this: Even if we do not accept any of this and we believe Macdonald corruptly allocated the licence, it does not matter. There was no serious corruption by NuCoal. In fact, there was no corruption by it at all. When NuCoal representatives appeared at the commission and David Ipp said, “What are you doing here?”, they said, “We’re here because it’s our one asset.” Ipp responded, “There is no need for you to be here because you don’t have any implications in this.” That is the evidence we have. That is why we have to fix up the NuCoal investors and give them what is rightfully theirs.