Free rugby tickets have no bearing on mine expansion approval: MPs

Queensland state and federal MPs have come under fire for attending rugby matches as guests of New Hope Group as a decision on the company’s expansion of New Acland mine draws closer.

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, state Energy and Electricity Minister Mark McArdle and Environment Minister Andrew Powell were all guests of the miner to see the Wallabies play the British and Irish Lions on June 22, 2013.

The federal and state ministers watched games at New Hope’s corporate box, Brisbane Times reported.

Macfarlane was also a guest of the company at the Bledisloe Cup match between the Wallabies and the All Blacks on October 20, 2012.

While Toowoomba North state MP Trevor Watts also attended a match as a guest of New Hope on June 9 in 2012.

The MPs have come under fire for accepting corporate hospitality when a decision on the company’s expansion of New Acland mine has not yet been handed down.

New Hope is seeking to extend the life of its mine by more than 10 ten years in a project worth $890 million.

Approval would mean the miner could increase coal production from 4.8 million tonnes a year to 7.5 million tonnes a year.

The proposal is before Queensland's Coordinator General, with a decision on the expansion expected next month.

Acland farmer and spokesperson for the Oakey Coal Alliance, Nicki Laws, said MPs could be swayed by New Hope’s gesture.

‘‘Look, we understand this happens, they ask a lot of politicians to accept hospitality, but we don’t think that is a level playing field at all,’’ Laws said.

‘‘It is very one-sided, all their spruiking about jobs and that.’’

Macfarlane said he declared the event on the register of members' interests which has been on the public record since 2012.

"As the Federal Industry Minister, I have no role in the approval of this project. It is a Queensland state matter," Macfarlane said.

"As Industry Minister and as the local member, I support the role of the resources sector in employing local people and contributing to the local economy.

"However, as with any development, New Acland Coal Mine Stage 3 must meet State Government requirements and fulfil the state assessment process."

While Watts said there was no discussion about the application process while he was a guest of the mining company.

New Hope has defended inviting politicians to be guests at its corporate box, stating it has interests and operations in coal mining, exploration, port operation, oil, agriculture, innovative technologies and investment.

"As a result of these wide-ranging business activities, New Hope continuously engages with community representatives at local, state and federal level," the company said.

"These engagement activities, of which corporate hospitality is a small part, extend to community-based groups, environmental and agricultural organisations, industry, educational and welfare organisations."

The Queensland Government said the ministers have done nothing wrong as the men will not have the last say on whether the expansion goes ahead.

“Importantly, the rigorous assessment of the draft Environmental Impact Statement  for the New Acland Stage 3 project will be carried out by Queensland’s independent Co-ordinator General Barry Broe without political interference,’’ a spokesman said.

“None of the Members of Parliament will have a role in that independent assessment, and all MP’s appropriately disclosed the hospitality received in accordance with the Register of Members Interest.”


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