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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Queensland election: Newman government under scrutiny over coal donation

Queensland election: Newman government under scrutiny over coal donation



Queensland election: Newman government under scrutiny over coal donation






Exclusive: New details emerge of donation from New
Hope Coal director to minister who oversaw air pollution clearance for
coalmine expansion











coal train



Uncovered coal trains passing the Cleveland train station in Brisbane’s inner south. Photograph: The Greens/AAP




The Queensland premier, Campbell Newman,
has been forced to fend off attacks on the integrity of his government
as new details emerged linking one of his ministers to a business figure
involved in a controversial coalmine expansion.



Newman hit the election campaign trail on Tuesday with Ian Walker,
who Guardian Australia can reveal took a donation from a board director
of New Hope Coal before his election in 2012.



Walker, as the minister for science, information technology,
innovation and the arts, subsequently oversaw the department which
cleared levels of air pollution from uncovered coal trains in Brisbane
before the expansion of New Hope’s Acland mine.



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Walker was also acting minister for state development when he called
for public input on New Hope’s environmental impact statement for
Acland last year.



The state Labor leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has claimed that the Liberal National party government had opened the door to corruption and on Tuesday radio host Alan Jones renewed his attack on Newman over Acland.


Donor records show that New Hope director Bill Grant gave a $2,000 personal cheque to Walker’s campaign fund in October 2011.


The donation would have been secret under the LNP’s widely-criticised
move to raise the threshold for declaring contributions from $1,000 to
$12,400 last year.



The pollution study by Walker’s department was released to companies including New Hope a week before it was made public in 2013.


Walker, who appeared with Newman at a press conference on the Gold
Coast announcing a new $60m tourism fund, left while refusing a request
for interview from Guardian Australia.



In a statement later, Walker declined to explain the nature of his
relationship with Grant but said all donations were “fully disclosed in
accordance with the law”.



Walker said his office had no role in the pollution study, for which coal companies had paid $250,000.


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Asked
if those payments had created a conflict of interest, Walker said the
decision to engage “the state’s top independent scientists shows a
proactive role in ensuring clean air for Queenslanders”.



Palaszczuk at the Labor campaign launch suggested the LNP had paved
the way for a return to the graft of “brown paper bag” politics in Queensland.



Newman said in response that there were “appropriate authorities that
can deal with such things”. He accused Labor of running “a campaign
about negativity and personality politics”.



“Why? They have no plan for Queensland, they don’t have the ticker to
sort out the financial problems we inherited,” he said. “They certainly
don’t know how to create jobs so they engage in this sort of thing.”



Newman repeatedly refused to say whether he had met Jones at his home
before last election and promised to block the mine expansion.



A spokesman for Newman declined to comment on Walker and his relationship with Grant.


Jones has travelled to Queensland to run daily “election special”
programs on 4BC radio, denouncing Newman as a “bully boy” and his
government as the worst in Australia.



The decision to allow Acland to mine another 3m tonnes of coal a year was announced on the Friday before Christmas.


New Hope and its parent company, Washington H Soul Pattinson, donated
more than $700,000 to the LNP at a state and federal level between 2011
and 2013.



Asked if New Hope’s donations influenced the government’s approval, Newman said: “I will not be commenting on Alan Jones.”


Asked by Guardian Australia if LNP officials had indicated whether
the party’s donations had risen since it raised the secrecy threshold,
Newman replied that he had “no idea”.



“You’ll have to ask them. I’m not involved,” he said.


Jones has also attacked the government over the energy minister, Mark
McArdle, and the environment minister, Andrew Powell, accepting
entertainment from New Hope in its corporate box at a Wallabies rugby
game in Brisbane in 2013.



Activist group Clean Air Queensland said the Acland expansion would increase coal dust pollution in Brisbane.


Clean Air Queensland organiser Michael Kane said his tests showed
emissions of particulate PM10 from uncovered coal wagons in Brisbane
exceeded national safety levels tenfold, as often as 10 times a day.



Kane claimed the government study clearing the pollution levels by
averaging emissions over 24 hours was “absolutely the wrong
methodology”.



Walker said that methodology was “determined by departmental scientists exercising their independent professional integrity”.


QUT researcher Adrian Barnett said air pollution standards were “a
political limit and shouldn’t be used as a health tool since no level of
pollution is safe”.



New Hope’s chairman, Robert Millner, was called before the Independent Commission Against Corruption
(Icac) in NSW last year over a donations controversy involving another
Washington H Soul Pattinson subsidiary of which he was chairman,
Brickworks.



Icac is due to complete its report this month on whether Brickworks’
donations to the Liberal party in NSW broke laws banning political
contributions from developers.







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