My suggestion of a shareholder class action against Cazaly Resources for NOT using Burke & Grill to lobby then WA Resources Minister Bowler over the billion-dollar Shovelanna iron ore project has sparked an interesting suggestion from a not-totally-disinterested party: maybe the man in the hat was on the case after all.

But after sifting through the odd WA mullock heap, it seems nothing in the wild, wild west is quite what it seems.

As reported in The Oz on 2 March there has indeed been a whiff of the fat man, via Noel Crichton-Browne, in the Shovelanna overburden, a whiff that turned into a stink that cost Liberal MP Anthony Fels his job. But it seems not to have been at Cazaly’s behest and it was a belated effort at that.

As John Howard has discovered, once you start looking into the dark well of political lobbying, you can find a bottomless (cess) pit with many a strange turn.

There is a very, very large amount at stake in the Cazaly v Rio Tinto Shovelanna story – a story that’s not over yet as Cazaly still pushes a legal case through the system.

Cazaly’s chances of regaining the deposit don’t look flash, but at some stage it might be argued that the disgraced Bowler’s performance over PMA v Xstrata case would leave open to question any and all decisions he made.

In any event, it seems Burke & Grill were only brought and bought into play after Bowler handed Shovelanna back to Rio. In the lead up, Cazaly was using another Labor-connected lobbyist, one Peter Clough.

A prospective Cazaly partner in Shovelanna, Echelon, was a client of the be-hatted one, but Echelon appears to have left the failed Bowler bowling to Cazaly/Clough.

After the event, more miners and would-be miners than Cazaly and Echelon became interested in Bowler’s suddenly discovered “state iron ore policy”, of which they had not previously heard.

A group of juniors, including their industry body, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, became interested in discovering more about this new policy and perhaps having it reviewed. It was among this group that the names of Burke & Grill clients appear – Fortescue, Murchison and Echelon.

Who pushed the button for the Grill to lean on the NCB to make suggestions that would ultimately fell Fels is not so clear. A lot of dust gets blown up around old WA mining sites.

The upshot though has been a tarring of the Cazaly case by association, quite possibly through Echelon, with the Burke.

It all becomes very messy, but since John Howard has entered the lobbying autopsy business, perhaps now is the time to ask something that has long puzzled me: Who and how and for what so successfully lobbied then-treasurer John Howard that he overturned the recommendation of the insurance regulator and let the dodgy Larry Adler’s FAI keep operating back in 1978?

It was a decision that certainly paid off nicely for the Liberal Party as Larry and son Rodney became loyal and generous supporters… until, of course, FAI played its role in the HIH collapse.

So, who persuaded you, John, and how?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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