By Mehroz Siraj
The inquiry into the suspicious allocation of mining and exploring licenses to two former Labor power brokers that was conducted by the New South Wales (NSW) based Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) concluded on Monday.
The commission had been investigating deals of a suspicious coal mining contract that former state Labor minister for minerals, Ian Macdonald, had given to the state’s former top unionist John Maitland.
A separate exploratory contract was given to former state Labor MP, Eddie Obeid, as revealed during the ICAC hearings.
Throughout the course of the investigations and hearings, Macdonald had maintained that he had no personal relationships with neither Maitland, nor Obeid.
These claims have however proven to be false.
Macdonald had strong relationships with both Obeid and Maitland, the commission learnt.
Obeid was a state parliamentarian in NSW for over twenty years and his office was in same building as that of Macdonald, the commission heard.
Maitland was a former top unionist from the CFMEU in NSW and had strong connections within the state Labor’s powerful hierarchies, of which Macdonald and Obeid were members, it was learnt.
It is alleged that Macdonald had given the coal mine exploring licenses to Maitland in 2008, without going through the proper tendering processes, the commission heard.
Maitland partnered with Newcastle based businessman Craig Ransley on this project, it was revealed.
When asked about why the licenses were awarded without proper tendering, Macdonald said that the legal process of awarding exploration authority were lengthy and cumbersome.
Maitland was awarded the license for the Doyles Creek coal mine in the state’s Hunter Valley back in 2008.
The license was awarded under the guise of a company named NuCoal Resources, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on May 2.
The contract was given on the official understanding that the mine would be used to train engineers with the aim of providing skilled labour for the state’s overall mining industry, it was revealed.
This stance was also supported by Federal Environment Minister, Greg Combet, who had personally written a letter to NSW authorities endorsing this project, the ABC reported.
However, in reality, the deal on the Doyles Creek mines had more sinister commercial objectives, as learnt by the ICAC commission.
ICAC’s officials probed the personal stakes of Maitland and Ransley, in these mines.
Maitland was one of the investors in this mining scheme and earned a profit of $15million in 2011 after making an initial investment of $165,000 in 2008, according to the ABC.
After acquiring the contract, Ransley informed his team and other investors in the project that the real worth of the mines was about four times that of what he initially told the state government at the time, the ABC reported.
Obeid and his sons also stood to gain directly from the deals that Minister Macdonald offered them, the inquiry learnt.
During the inquiry hearings, Obeid’s sons had allegedly revealed that their family earned about $75million from a separate deal given to them in the state’s Bylong Valley region, ABC Radio reported on April 20.
The Obeid family had allegedly been given the licenses for exploratory work in that region.
Previous investigations into Obeid’s dealings that were carried out by ICAC under the name of Operation Jasper, revealed that Obeid had gained access to the confidential maps of the mining areas of the valley in his Sydney office, according to the ABC.
The probing had also revealed that his sons were intending to buy property in the valley and nearby areas, the ABC reported on May 2.
The committees investigating the two deals also learnt that in return for providing licences to Maitland and Obeid, Macdonald had received gifts and bribes, ABC Radio reported.
He was also promised a $4million cash pay out once Obeid, Ransley and Maitland started to receive returns on their investments, ABC Radio reported.
Obeid, Macdonald and Maitland have however denied these revelations and professed that they are innocent.