University scholarships funded by Doyles Creek mine

Newcastle University kept quiet about aspects of its $1 million relationship with the Doyles Creek mine in 2010 for fear of reputation risk, internal emails have revealed.

The Newcastle Herald reports that back in March and April 2010 the university came under increasing pressure from the mine’s new owner, NuCoal to announce Doyles Creek mine had funded scholarships at the institution.

It has been reported that in an email sent on March 19, 2010, just one day after former union boss John Maitland’s $9.8 million stake in Doyles Creek was made public, senior university employees agreed that ‘now is not the time for a media release on the scholarships’.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption will hold an inquiry in March 2013, investigating the former NSW government minister Ian Macdonald’s granting of the Doyles Creek exploration licence in late 2008.

Macdonald is already under investigation by ICAC, who is currently looking into his involvement with Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and his dealings with Cascade Coal over exploration licences granted in 2009.

The email in question was circulated eight days after the first formal meeting between university and mine representatives, when the university emphasised the ‘‘ways in which we can assist Doyles Creek to lift the bar in establishing the training facility and the mine’’.

After said meeting university donor relations manager Libby Rodgers-McPhee emailed Andrew Poole from the mining company ResCo to say that publicising the Doyles Creek-funded scholarships would be a priority.

However, despite receiving the first $250,000 payment from NuCoal the university resisted publicising the relationship because of the “sensitivity” of the company’s relationship with Doyles Creek and feared bad publicity.

The university’s public relations department told NuCoal CEO Glen Lewis at the end of March 2010 that publicising the scholarships would be held off until after Easter, ‘once the [media] rush has quietened down’’.

To which Lewis replied he wanted a media release ‘‘as soon as possible after Easter’’.

On April 16, 2010 Lewis again contacted the university’s public relations department, in an email he asked: ‘‘How are you going with the press release for scholarships? Keen to get something out next week if possible”.

An internal email from the university’s communication department to Foundation chief executive Louise O’Connell on April 19, 2010, mentioned Mr Lewis’s request and concluded:  ‘‘We can’t put them off much longer.’’

Eventually the university described interest in the scholarships as “disappointing”.

Newcastle University also received another $250,000 from the Department of Primary Industries in a matching four year $1 million agreement which was authorised by Macdonald for an Institute for Frontier Geoscience.

The university said the ICAC hearing next year was ‘‘a case of working through it as it unfolds’’.

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