Liberal lobbyist pushes for coal mine approval

The controversial $800 million coal mine proposal for Wyong in New South Wales has received support from Liberal party identity Nick di Girolamo who has been lobbying on behalf of the company behind the plan.

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has been accused of changing his policy on the Wallarah 2 coal mine after coming to power and is refusing to comment on his dealings with di Girolamo.

As opposition leader O’Farrell campaigned against the central coast mine.

In the lead up to the March 2011 state election the former Labor government refused approval for the mine, following departmental advice there was uncertainty about water quality impacts.

A subsequent Planning Assessment Commission report recommended that 40 conditions be attached to any future approval.

The companies behind the coal project, led by South Korean government-owned company Kores Australia, resubmitted its application under the new Coalition government in January last year, SMH reported.

In March 2012 di Girolamo registered as a lobbyist with the NSW Parliament under the company name Westin Strategic Consulting, Kores was its only client.

Kores lodged a development application for Wallarah 2 in October last year.

According to the SMH neither O’Farrell nor Chris Hartcher, the Resources Minister and Minister for the Central Coast, would disclose the details of any meetings they have had with di Girolamo about the project.

The Liberal lobbyist is also the majority owner of Australian Water, and is said to have links with the Obeid family who is currently under investigation by the ICAC for alleged corrupt coal deals.

Recent ICAC investigations revealed the tight-knit Obeid clan holds a secret $3.4 million stake in Australian Water Holdings.

The water company has also secured an exclusive 25-year agreement with the NSW state government.

In December di Girolamo, denied that the Obeids had any involvement but in January financial documents revealing the family’s involvement were tendered to the ICAC.

The ICAC has heard the Obeid family lent $3 million to di Girolamo to buy shares in AWH.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said di Girolamo sought a meeting to introduce him to a senior Kores executive last December, but he was unavailable at the time.

''Any discussions I have had in my capacity as a registered lobbyist with government ministers or officials has been done in accordance with the NSW Register of Lobbyists,” di Girolamo said.

In opposition, O'Farrell and Hartcher, the then central coast spokesman, addressed a 2009 rally opposing the mine wearing red t-shirts with the slogan ''Water not coal''.

''The next Liberal National government will ensure mining cannot occur here; will ensure that mining cannot occur in any water catchment area. And we'll ensure that mining leases and mining exploration permits reflect that commonsense. No ifs, not buts. A guarantee,'' O'Farrell said at the time.

Opponents of the mine have accused O'Farrell and Hartcher of back flipping on their position after the election.

Hazzard said on Friday that no decision has been made regarding Wallarah 2.

''I can assure you that the Department of Planning and Infrastructure will not assess proposals unless all potential impacts, including impacts on water catchments, are adequately addressed,'' he said.

Australian Mining reported last week that the long running battle over the proposed underground coal mine had been reignited with residents threatening to take legal action.

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