FORMER NSW Labor minister Ian Macdonald’s push to fast-track the tender process for coalmining in the Bylong Valley was economically irresponsible, a corruption inquiry has heard.
Brad Mullard, a senior officer at the Department of Primary Industries in 2008, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption yesterday that he urged Mr Macdonald to slow down the tender process for the issuing of mining exploration licences because he thought further exploration was needed.
He agreed with suggestions from junior counsel assisting the commission, Nicholas Chen, that forging ahead with plans to allocate the 11 coal-release areas meant NSW could miss out on lucrative financial contributions from successful bidders.
‘‘It would also be economically
irresponsible for that to occur from the department’s perspective, is that right?’’ Mr Chen asked.
‘‘In my view, yes, yes,’’ Mr Mullard replied.
At a meeting with Mr Macdonald in mid-2008 Mr Mullard told the inquiry he had said ‘‘to release the areas without the additional information would not result in an adequate return to the state and we needed the data to ensure there was an appropriate return’’.
The ICAC is probing Mr Macdonald’s decision in 2008 to issue exploration licences over the Bylong Valley and how it benefited another ex-minister, Eddie Obeid.
It is alleged Mr Macdonald did the bidding of Obeid family members, who are said to have masked their involvement through complex trust and company structures.
The ICAC also heard Mr Mullard was concerned that Mr Macdonald’s decision to reopen the expression-of-interest process could do wider damage to mining in the state.
‘‘We were concerned that when you start changing the rules halfway through the process it certainly throws into question the coal allocation processes in NSW,’’ he said.
The inquiry also heard evidence that the critical tenement where the Obeids had property interests, Mount Penny, was the only one generated by Mr Macdonald’s office. AAP