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Federal Politics

Sep 19, 2011

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Graham Readfearn writes: It was one of those “drop your bacon sandwich at the audacity” kind of stories — the sort of revelation that shows what power and influence in a democracy really means.

Australia’s wealthiest individual, Hancock Prospecting chairman Gina Rinehart, loaded up a couple of federal MPs onto her private jet and flew them to India for a wedding. What for?

At the time, Rinehart was trying to secure a deal with infrastructure giant GVK, which had shown an interest in buying into some of her coal mine projects. Walking up the aisle was Mallika Reddy, grandaughter of GVK’s founder GV Krishna Reddy. As was reported in Crikey, the two MPs National Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop were there to “lend cachet” to Rinehart.

Actually, it wasn’t just two MPs. Unreported at the time, but buried away in the register of interests, was an alteration to Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro‘s entry. The change, recorded on July 7, shows that Gambaro was also on the flight from Perth to India and stayed two nights in Hyderabad.

Anyway, the deal is now done. GVK will pay Hancock Prospecting $1.2 billion for a stake in three of her coal mines — Tad’s Corner, Paul’s Corner and Kevin’s Corner — and the associated infrastructure works to get the coal from Queensland’s Galilee Basin to port and then off to India, where GVK will burn it in power stations.

Reports suggest the deal will initially see about 30 million tonnes of coal per year being exported, rising to as much 85 million tonnes. This amount of coal is similar in tonnage to the Xstrata Wandoan coal mine, which recently faced objections to its project on climate change impact grounds in the Queensland Land Court. A judgement is expected sometime in the next three months.

As I reported for the Brisbane Times, expert witnesses claimed to the court that the impact of the mining and burning of that coal would be measurable globally — including the additional flooding of 23,000 homes due to rising sea levels and increasing the risk of global average temperatures going beyond 2C.

Who knows if Joyce, Bishop and Gambaro had the desired effect (it obviously didn’t damage her reputation in the eyes of GVK), but the fact Rinehart was able to summon three elected representatives in that way is intriguing enough.

While we are thinking about powerful relationships, here’s another one which Rinehart is presumably happy with.

A few months back I wrote a story for Crikey revealing how Rinehart had held a lunch at her house by the Swan River in Perth, at which West Australian Premier Colin Barnett, WA environment minister Bill Marmion and Chinese Ambassador Chen Yuming were in attendance to hear a presentation on climate change from the “sceptic” Ian Plimer, the mining director and University of Adelaide geology professor.

Bill Marmion’s current chief of staff is Colin Edwardes, the husband of Cheryl Edwardes, who is the head of “external affairs, government relations and approvals” at Hancock Prospecting. Cheryl is also a former WA environment minister.

As PerthNow points out, Marmion will be in the position of considering environmental approvals for Hancock Prospecting projects — of which there are currently four pending.

Are relationships such as this appropriate or do they suggest some of our democratic structures are skating on increasingly thin ice? I know it sends a chill up my backbone.

This post first appeared on Graham Readfearn’s blog.

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