AGL Energy made $98,800 in political donations while it's application to develop a gasfield at Gloucester was being assessed by the NSW Government, yet only around half of that amount was declared during the public assessment of the project, investigations by Groundswell Gloucester show.
The investigations show that AGL submitted a political donations disclosure in May 2010, as part of the public assessment process for its Stage 1 Gloucester Gas Project ('Stage 1') by the NSW Government. That disclosure document failed to include a $11,000 donation to the Liberal Party's Millenium Forum.
The investigations also show that AGL made a further $40,550 in political donations before Stage 1 was approved by the government, but failed to update the Planning Department with this information.
Since October 2008 it has been a requirement under the NSW EP&A Act that proponents of major projects submit political donations disclosures to the Planning Department, for all donations up to two years before an application is lodged. Proponents must also update the Department with any further donations made before a decision is made on the project, and the Department places all of these declarations on public exhibition. However, because the Stage 1 project development application was lodged in August 2008, two months before the legislation came into force, the AGL's failure to fully disclose its donations was not illegal.
Groundswell Gloucester spokesperson Julie Lyford said: “The public has been misled. During the public assessment of the Gloucester gas project, we were told that AGL had made nearly $50,000 in political donations. The real figure was twice that.
“AGL have managed to get away with this due to a legal technicality, but that does not make the whole affair any less odious.
“We wonder what political donations were made during the government's recent assessment of AGL's application to conduct fracking near family homes in Gloucester. If that project was given 'state significant' status, as it should have been, AGL would be required to disclose their donations. But the government changed planning regulations to allow the fracking to be approved without that status.”
“Our community has lost all faith in the fairness of this process,” said Ms Lyford. “This project needs to be frozen pending an open and transparent investigation into its approval process.
“Why are resources companies still allowed to make political donations in NSW?” asked Steve Phillips, regional coordinator for the Lock The Gate Alliance.
“We banned donations from property developers because of the corrupting influence this has on project approvals. Well, mining and gas projects are far more valuable than property developments, and the company's pushing them have very deep pockets. It's time to ban political donations from mining and drilling companies.”
Timeline and summary
6.8.2008: Lucas Molopo lodges a development application for Gloucester Gas Project Stage 1.
1.10.2008: Section 147 of the NSW EP&A Act comes into force, requiring political donations disclosures for major project development applications. As the Stage 1 application pre-dates this legislation, AGL's subsequent failure to disclose all its political donations was not illegal.
17.12.2008: AGL buys Gloucester Gas Project fom Lucas Molopo.
11.11.2009: AGL submits Environmental Assessment for Stage 1, beginning the public assessment.
13.5.2010: AGL submits political donations disclosure under the Stage 1 assessment process, showing $48,250 in donations up to March 2010. The declaration fails to include a $11,000 donation to the Liberal Party's Millenium Forum made on 1.10.2008
6.6.2010 – 8.2.2011: AGL makes a further $40,550 in political donations, including buying meals with Barry O'Farrell and Brad Hazzard. These donations were not disclosed under the Stage 1 assessment process*.
22.2.2011: Stage 1 project is approved by the NSW Government.
28.2.2011: AGL makes an $11,000 donation to the NSW Liberals for membership of the Millenium Forum.
$48,250: AGL political donations declared to NSW Planning during Stage 1 process.
$51,550: AGL donations made during the Stage 1 process but not declared to NSW Planning
* The donations were declared to the NSW Election Funding Authority but not disclosed to the NSW Planning Department for public exhibition during the Stage 1 assessment process. The EFA disclosure was made by AGL four months after Stage 1 was approved.