JOANNE MCCARTHY: A clearing in the forest

EVERY couple of months I ring the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and ask a question.

Has ASIC done anything yet about a director of a former construction group – Hightrade – that left a trail of destruction through the Hunter, after I was told he might be prevented from being a company director for a few years?

The answer has been no so far.

Not that I’ve got anything against him. It’s just that after a group is able to cause the damage Hightrade did – $100million in unpaid tax according to a statement in federal Parliament, and millions of dollars in losses for local companies when Hightrade companies went under – you’d like to think someone would be held responsible, even if he was only a bit player.

But that doesn’t seem to be the Australian way.

In the past few years companies such as Babcock & Brown, Centro and ABC Learning have gone under, ASIC has received reports and action has been taken.

 Despite the billions of dollars lost and the cost to creditors and shareholders, the penalties for those responsible have been less than if you stole a few cars.

Which is why we  won’t   hold our breath about the collapsed construction group Hastie, despite last week’s administrator’s report that found directors may have potentially breached their duties and the corporations law.

The potential breaches relate to whether they ensured financial statements gave a ‘‘true and fair view’’ of the company’s position in the period before it collapsed.

Shareholders, among others, were entitled to believe those financial statements.

Which brings us to ASIC and Jonathan Moylan, the Newcastle man behind the ANZ hoax that temporarily wiped $314million from the value of mining company Whitehaven, behind the proposed Maules Creek mine, but ended up costing shareholders about $450,000.

Not that that’s a small amount, said federal opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt.

‘‘If someone were to take and burn that amount of cash from retirees, families or businesses, that would rightly be denounced for its economic damage, personal damage and would inevitably attract the interest of the authorities,’’ he said.

Of course. 

But given the billions from Centro, Babcock & Brown and ABC Learning, the millions from Hightrade, and the lack of any meaningful consequences in those cases, the often shrill commentary in the Jonathan Moylan case is a bit rich.

I’m a process person. Flawed process, flawed outcome. My first response in the Moylan case was that it would backfire, because the process chosen by Moylan would inevitably infect the outcome he was trying to achieve.

I still believe that. It gave too many people a free kick and a body to sink the boot into.

But Moylan’s cause – trying to stop three mines from wiping out the Leard State Forest, destroying endangered communities and leaving final pit voids up to 300metres deep?

He is bang on the money.

Yesterday I read everything available on the Department of Planning website about the Maules Creek mine approval process. It took hours, but it was the least I could do before writing about Moylan and ASIC’s investigation of the ANZ hoax.

Moylan can be criticised about the process he chose to make a point, but the NSW government’s coalmine approval process is all smoke and mirrors, occasional harsh words, but fairly inevitable outcomes. Money trumps all arguments.

The mines that will destroy Leard State Forest are now before the federal government, and Moylan is waiting to hear what ASIC will do.

Do yourself a favour before forming an opinion – read up on Maules Creek, and you might just find yourself calling Moylan a hero.           

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