The murky world of Tinkler’s Maules Creek approval revealed
The depth of skulduggery surrounding Nathan Tinkler’s abortive coal loader at Newcastle, revealed in the hearings of the ICAC’s Operation Spicer inquiry, has surprised most of us.
Perhaps only Jodi McKay, the Labor member for Newcastle unseated in a dirty tricks campaign spearheaded by her erstwhile party colleague Joe Tripodi, had an inkling what lengths Tinkler and his team at Buildev had gone to in pursuit of their vision for the former BHP steelworks site at Mayfield.
Now we know what went on in glorious detail — the donations, the sham outfits, the leaflets, the texts, the meetings, the leaked government documents — and this week’s Independent Commission Against Corruption appearance by Tinkler will shed more light.
The loader, however, was rejected. Although McKay was shoved out of the way, nothing was achieved from a business point of view.
In fact, Tinkler soon gave up even on McKay’s replacement, Liberal MP Tim Owen, deciding instead he would work with the Nationals, particularly then-opposition ports spokesman Andrew Stoner. At one point Tinkler, who has a way with words, texted Buildev’s David Sharpe saying he was not convinced Owen was onside: “He’s a fence-sitter like his deadbeat leader [Barry O’Farrell]. Will drive through Stoner and Tim can read about it in the papers like his boss”. That too ended in failure, with O’Farrell finally rejecting the loader in January 2012.
Or did it? While the loader was rejected, two months later the Planning Assessment Commission finally gave approval to the Maules Creek project near Narrabri, which Tinkler’s Aston Resources had bought from Rio Tinto in 2009, floated on the stock exchange at a tidy profit and then merged into Whitehaven Coal.
The first PAC approval was only preliminary: under the new planning process introduced by O’Farrell to replace the Labor party’s controversial Part 3A, the ability to appeal a project to the Land and Environment Court on merit was replaced by a two-stage process that required a second PAC to review the first recommendation. But while it came down broadly in favour of the mine, there were two very tough conditions: that there be no final void (the hole left after mining is done); and that there be adequate offsets.
Strange stuff started happening. A confidential submission provided to ICAC, seen by Crikey, outlines a string of missteps, questionable decisions and interventions that led to the final Maules Creek approval:
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