THE Department of Planning is prosecuting a Nathan Tinkler-founded company for allegedly breaching planning laws by not declaring political donations made by two former directors in its Maules Creek mine application.
In the first prosecution of its kind, the department has launched proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court against Aston Coal 2, for not disclosing in its $776million mine project application the donations from former directors Todd Hannigan and Thomas Todd.
Each gave money to the NSW National Party only a few days before the 2011 state election, when Mr Hannigan was also the chief executive of parent company Aston Resources and Mr Todd its chief financial officer, as well as being directors of Aston Coal 2.
But the department is not pursuing Aston Resources, which merged with Whitehaven Coal in May 2012, over the donations, nor those of former Aston Resources director and non-executive chairman Nathan Tinkler.
Under planning laws, a proponent has to declare to the department political donations made within two years of an application, including those made by its directors.
It is also required to disclose within seven days any subsequent donations.
Election Funding Authority returns show Mr Todd donated $5000 – the maximum an individual can donate under state laws, and Mr Hannigan gave $4250.
The information was not included in Aston Coal 2’s application for the open-cut mine near Boggabri, lodged in August 2010 and approved in October last year.
Mr Tinkler also donated $5000 to the NSW Nationals and $45,000 to its federal campaign, at a March 31, 2011 fund-raiser.
Maules Creek was widely considered an Aston Resources project, but it is Aston Coal 2’s name on the application.
A department spokesman said its view was that the legislation ‘‘limits us to prosecuting Aston Coal 2 Pty Ltd as the proponent’’.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said the assessment of the mine should have been put on hold while the donations were investigated.
‘‘For the Department of Planning to say Tinkler’s political donations are not relevant to the project defies common sense and public expectations as to how the law is meant to work.’’
A Whitehaven Coal spokeswoman said the matter was one it had ‘‘inherited’’.
‘‘Whitehaven is currently considering its position in relation to the legal action – including whether there was any legal requirement for the donations in question to be disclosed.’’
Mr Todd and Mr Hannigan left Aston Resources in November 2011, in a shake-up of the company’s management in which Mr Tinkler, the founder, was appointed non-executive chairman.