Deadwood dealings for NSW
By Jeremy Buckingham MLC
“Be in my joint in two hours, we’re forming a fuckin’ government!”
So declares notorious casino boss and brothel owner Al Swearengen in the brilliant TV series Deadwood. Set in Deadwood, South Dakota, and based on the events and politics of the famous 19th century frontier mining and gambling town, Swearengen embodies the cavalier and corrupt attitude of those in power to democracy and the law.
It was this same reckless Wild West disposition that ran through the rotten heart of former Labor government in NSW. Deadwood’s cronyism, misbehaviour, scandals, dodgy decisions, and factional stabbings eventually brought down NSW Labor.
The ICAC hearings beginning in November will dig through the circumstances surrounding a decision made in 2008 by the then Minister for Mineral Resources, Ian Macdonald, to give a mining licence to a mate, John Maitland despite advice to the contrary. It will also look into the decision to open a mining area in the beautiful Bylong Valley for coal exploration, including whether the decision was influenced by another former Labor Minister Eddie Obeid.
Premier Barry O’Farrell was elected with a whopping majority and mandate to bring about change for NSW and clean up politics. The Greens have helped him in that regard by passing donations laws that ban corporations and other organisations from donating to political parties – a good reform that his usual Shooters and Fishers Party buddies refused to back. This reform will help remove the influence of money on decision-making and democracy.
In other areas Barry O’Farrell and the new government seem to be repeating Labor’s mistakes. Already we see a Premier lunching with a billionaire casino boss then making favourable decisions and announcements. A raft of pro-coal and coal seam gas decisions have the Premier out making lame excuses and flogging his Strategic Regional Land Use policy as a cure all – like snake oil from a wagon.
Minister Chris Hartcher follows the disgraced Ian Macdonald (Christened by Barry O’Farrell as ‘Sir-Lunch-A-Lot’) in the key mining portfolio. Rumour has it that Mr Hartcher has been meeting lobbyists in expensive restaurants too, but the Minister refuses to reveal which lobbyists he has and has not met.
The Department of Planning is now required to keep a public ‘lobbyist contact register” after the Medich-McGurk fiasco revealed how lobbying was operating in that department. However, the rules are different for Mr Hartcher. He told a parliamentary estimates committee that he has a ‘policy’ of not revealing which lobbyists he may have met (although he felt the need to tell the committee that he’d ‘continue to meet freely’ with members of the Liberal Party).
Walking about the halls of Macquarie Street, it’s clear there is a conga line of big coal, gas and mining carpetbaggers pressing their cause. The farmers and residents of mining affected communities have no way of knowing whose lobbyists are talking to whom? This can only lead to a public perception that deals are being done behind closed doors or at fancy lunches.
Amongst those wearing out the carpet in the corridors of power is former Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader Mark Vaile. Vaile now chairs Whitehaven Coal 20 percent of which is owned by billionaire coal baron Nathan Tinkler. Tinkler appeared at the inaugural Parliamentary Spring Ball last year, has donated to the National Party, and this week his mega-coal mine at Malues Creek on the Liverpool Plains was approved. The open cut pit from this coal mine will destroy the ecologically sensitive habitat of the Leard Forest and affect nearby farmers.
Now we hear that Premier O’Farrell runs into James Packer at a fancy restaurant and ten months later Packer’s on his way to a casino licence and new hotel at Barangaroo. Former Labor power-brokers Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar are hired by Packer to work for Crown, and lo and behold, NSW Labor thinks Packer’s proposed casino is a great idea!
NSW deserves better than a continuation of shady politics where former politicians now lobbyists or billionaire mining and gambling bosses dominate decision-makers in back rooms or expensive restaurants. Barry O’Farrell promised a new broom of transparency, but when it comes to big decisions and political influence in NSW, it remains as clear as the mud of Deadwood.