Former NSW Labor mining minister Ian Macdonald wanted a mining project to be quickly approved "in house", despite internal departmental advice against the proposal, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has been told.
Macdonald’s former chief of staff Jamie Gibson yesterday gave evidence at the ICAC’s Operation Acacia hearing into the Doyles Creek mining exploration licence, granted without tender to a former Macdonald union associate, John Maitland.
Granted in 2008 the licence was for the establishment of a “training mine” in the Hunter Valley which has reportedly delivered Maitland and his associates a $48 million profit, the Australian reported.
Maitland’s initial investment into the mine of $165,000 has delivered him a windfall of about $15 million in three years.
Gibson yesterday told ICAC Macdonald instructed him to draw up the approval for the mine "in house", going against the mining department’s senior members’ objections.
"He wanted it done quickly and he wanted it done in house," Gibson told ICAC.
Gibson also said he found the request extraordinary and without precedence, as he had never been instructed to draw up an approval without the department.
"It was the first of its kind . . . I thought the department should be involved," Gibson said.
He said the minister did not seem concerned about the department's advice, and wanted the licence awarded to Maitland's group without a tender process.
"It certainly seemed to be, he did seem quite, very, very keen to make sure that it happened expeditiously," Gibson said.
"I do recall saying the department is not and has not supported this and it would mean that I would have to seek the proper documentation for this from the department."
Gibson told ICAC he was uncomfortable with Macdonald’s decision to sign the Doyles Creek licence during an $1800 dinner at the upmarket Catalina's restaurant in Sydney's eastern suburbs on December 15, 2008.
"I was personally worried about that. It's not proper," Gibson said.
In attendance at the dinner was Macdonald, his daughter Sasha, Maitland, Gibson, then chief of staff Jason Bartlett and Doyles Creek mining executive Craig Ransley.
Gibson said Catalina’s was chosen at Macdonald’s insistence to “celebrate”.
"He picked the dining venues for just about everything," he said.
Counsel assisting the commission Peter Braham SC asked Gibson why Maitland also had a direct hand in drafting letters of approval for the mine licence that were later signed by Macdonald and then sent back to Maitland.
"Was it an extraordinary aspect of these events that Mr Maitland had some input into the terms of a letter being directed to him . . . particularly a letter which as you understood it constituted a very significant exercise of ministerial power and discretion?" Braham asked.
"Yes," Gibson replied.
Gibson also told the hearing that Macdonald repeatedly stressed to him that Maitland was not a personal friend, but a business associate.
"He kept repeating it, trying hard to convince me that there was only a professional relationship there," Gibson said.
The hearing continues.