If Rudd is serious about cleaning up NSW Labor, then Albanese and Cameron need addressing….

By Kate Doak.
By Kate Doak.

Early on Sunday morning on the ABC’s Insiders program, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the following statement to Barrie Cassidy in response to a question on the health of the Australian Labor Party and the current election campaign:

Thirdly, I think we also saw something wrong happening in the Labor Party. We’ve seen of course the report of ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) in New South Wales. So the actions we have taken there, mine, to reform the leadership structure of the Labor Party so there is a new system for electing the leader but also to authorise federal intervention in the New South Wales branch.

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Deputy Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Rudd. Sydney, 26th August 2013, Courtesy of ABC News24 – Photo via Screenshot.

Now Mr Rudd has made this statement on a couple of occasions since he regained the Prime Ministership, which begs the question as to why he’s failed to address his own Pecuniary Interest issues, as well as why he has allied himself with two of Ian MacDonald’s key state and federal allies throughout the 2000’s. Namely the Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and former AMWU National Secretary, NSW Senator Doug Cameron.

Now it’s an open secret that Cameron and Albanese have been long-term members of the “Hard Left” MacDonald camp, which also included others such as Albanese’s wife Carmel Tebbutt, Verity Firth and Linda Burney. From supporting efforts to keep MacDonald in politics in 2006 through to openly supporting mining related bills that MacDonald successfully pushed through the NSW Parliament in 2005, something stinky has undoubtedly been going in certain circles of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party since well before the alleged events and activities that prompted ICAC’s inquiry into Ian MacDonald and Eddie Obeid occured. Needless to say, for the health of the Australian Labor Party and Australian democracy in general, this period of NSW politics needs analysing in detail.

Take for example the following exchange that took place in the NSW Legislative Council during the passage of the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area Bill of 2005, just a few weeks before Bob Carr resigned from the Premiership of New South Wales:

The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (ALP): The Opposition has tried to score political points with regard to the comments made by Craig Emerson, the Australian Labor Party member for the Federal Queensland seat of Rankin, who has made several ill-informed comments about the Government’s decision. Dr Emerson claims to have intimate knowledge of the region because he lived in Baradine as a young man, having left there 35 years ago. Clearly, he knows little of what has been happening in the intervening period; otherwise he would not make his illogical intervention in this debate. For the record, the official position of the Federal Opposition was stated on 5 May by the shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Anthony Albanese. He made it clear that Craig Emerson’s comments were not only irrelevant but stupid.

The Hon. Duncan Gay (Nationals): What would Albanese know about it?

The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (ALP): Anthony Albanese is a very good member of Parliament. He congratulated the Premier “on his comprehensive plan to protect 348,000 hectares of woodland stretching from Dubbo to the Queensland border”. Mr Albanese said also that the Government “has shown that with vision and conviction, long term environmental goals can be achieved without jeopardising the job security of timber communities”. I would believe Anthony Albanese any day over Dr Emerson, this interloper from Queensland.

Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area Act of 2005, the bill had the effect of allowing mining activities to take place within various state forests and other environmentally significant minerals-rich areas of the North West Slopes, New England and Upper Hunter regions of NSW, without breaking the Native Vegetation Act. As the attached map below shows, areas marked with Zones 1 and 2 were for Recreational, Conservation and Aboriginal Culture preservation, while areas marked in Zones 3 and 4 were also for Forestry and Mining, even if they had also marked for environmental conservation. Effectively, these latter two areas are allowed to breach the Native Vegetation Act of 2003 with the ministerial approval of either the Minister for the Environment or the Minister for Natural Resources.

Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area of NSW

At the time that the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area came into effect upon Ministerial Approval in 2009, Carmel Tebbutt was the Minister for the Environment while Ian MacDonald was still the Minister for Natural Resources.

Needless to say, when I came across the commentary that The Hon. Craig Emerson made expressing serious concerns in regards to this bill and found out that the Albanese Family had such close ties to it, alarm bells started ringing given the fact that the Community Conservation Area proposed was the only one in the state and was heavily promoted by MacDonald.  That’s because less than a year after this bill was passed, the aforementioned meeting took place in order to save MacDonald’s state preselection from supposed allegations of misconduct.

Now from early 2005 until mid 2007, MacDonald was also the Minister responsible for all of the Catchment Management Authorities in New South Wales. Swapping from the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources across to the Department of Environment and Climate Change at that time, the state’s Catchment Management Authorities were (and still are) responsible for analysing, regulating and approving the Water Management Plans and land clearing of various mining projects, while they also were responsible for advising on soil conditions and approving Property Vegetation Plans for both farmers and other landholders in association with the controversial Native Vegetation Act of 2003. Throughout their existence they’ve had a significant, yet not widely known influence in the major coal and gas production areas of the Sydney, Hunter and Gunnedah coal basins. Due to the fact that they are directly part of the catchment-communities that they environmentally administrate, they are justifiably highly regarded in most rural communities, by farmers, miners and political parties such as the Australian Greens alike.

Since the middle of 2005, the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area has fallen into the areas covered by the Namoi, Central West and Border-Rivers/Gwydir Catchment Management Authorities. That means that the Bill that Anthony Albanese expressedly supported in 2005 gave the mineral licencing, environmental regulation and scientific research responsibilities for the New England & Northwestern regions of New South Wales solely to one individual, namely Ian MacDonald. Furthermore, it later placed his wife Carmel Tebbutt in a position where she could authorise clearing at the request of MacDonald in areas not entirely controlled by the latter.

Now for the record, I have no evidence (and nor am I implying) that any mining/gas company or any of the Catchment Management Authorities have done anything illegal, unethical or untoward, throughout their activities within the Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area.  In fact, I strongly believe that Mining, Coal Seam Gas production, Forestry and Agriculture should hold strong and sustainable positions within the rural New South Wales economy, while respectfully maintaining the environment.  However given the haphazard nature of the wording of this bill and the presence of allegations of misconduct by MacDonald from within the Labor Party at the time, I can’t help but feel that alarm bells should’ve been ringing in the NSW Parliament regardless of the political affiliation of the politicians in office at the time, as a result of such extensive environmental, mineral-resource and agricultural management oversight responsibilities essentially being placed solely in the hands of one individual. Furthermore, badly written bills nearly always create bureauratic nightmares and serious inconsistencies between policies and legislation in the long term.

Take for example the former “Laird State Forest”, which was marked as a Zone 4 area under the Brigalow and Nandewar CCA and is now being cleared in order to make way for the Maules Creek Coal Mine, which is now owned by Whitehaven Coal. In an official report by the Namoi Catchment Management Authority into the Maules Creek Mine, the following statement was made:

The fact that areas of EEC (Endangered Ecological Community) and CEEC (Critically Endangered Ecological Community) vegetation is to be broad-scale cleared for this project seems to create equity issues for private landholders seeking to clear native vegetation and manage their land in competition with mining, and for the NSW Government with significant inconsistencies between both policies and legislation.

As a part of this project, according to the Namoi Catchment Management Authority over 1665ha of forests and woodlands, 414ha of grasslands and 99ha of pasture and croping country will be cleared as a part of the Maules Creek project going ahead. This directly contradicts MacDonald’s and Albanese’s claims that broadscale clearing had ended in NSW as a result of the actions of the Carr Government, while it also highlights how such bills can make negotiations and consultations between all stakeholders in such projects unnecessarily complicated and full of suspicion.

Namoi Region – Brigalow and Nandewar Community Conservation Area of NSW

Now with MacDonald having key roles in the development and passing of the Native Vegetation Act of 2003, the Brigalow and Nadewar Community Conservation Area Act of 2005 and the Native Vegetation Regulation Act of 2005 amongst others, when viewed against the final reports of ICAC’s Operations Jasper & Arcacia in regards to Mining it is important that we ascertain whether MacDonald’s allegedly corrupt activities only occured from 2008 onwards, or if they are only the tip of the iceberg. Since MacDonald was the Minister responsible for the state’s mineral resources and given that he specifically targetted the larger Brigalow and Nandewar region from 2005 onwards, that’s a real possibility.

Given the fact that Albanese and Cameron protected MacDonald in 2006 before the events that placed him at ICAC, Tebbutt received a large donation from MacDonald’s associate Ron Medich in 2009, Burney was the Convenor of the supposedly independent Natural Resources Advisory Council (under MacDonald) with a budget of over $1.2 million in 2006 and Albanese claims to be unaware of his wife’s finances in his latest Pecuniary Interests, there’s obviously more than a hint of controversy surrounding these relationships and events that needs further exploring.

Consequentally, Prime Minister Rudd’s commitment to reforming the Australian Labor Party needs to be called into question if he doesn’t commit to an inquiry into the actions and statements of his Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, as well as the Senator for New South Wales, Doug Cameron.

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