As we try to make sense of stories about politics and companies, it pays to keeping looking at the list Crikey published back at the beginning of the month of who is giving how much to which party. I checked this morning and it put the current Independent Commission into Corruption inquiry about goings on at the Wolloongong Council into a proper perspective.

Property developers and development companies provided $5.1 million of the $13.9 million which Australian Electoral Commission figures show was donated to the three major political parties in 2006-07. Now we know that there is no such thing as free morning coffee as well as a free lunch.

The list also would make a normal person wonder why it was that the ethanol producer Manildra Group was the biggest single donor of all. Was there something other than altruism behind Mr Dick Honan’s support for the democratic process? One of our website users suggests there just might be. In an anonymous tip the informant writes:

Dear Crikey, Please keep my details confidential. I thought you would find this information of interest.

I note that Crikey recently highlighted the massive donations given by Mr Dick Honan’s Manildra Group to the two major political parties.

I’m sure you are aware that Manildra is Australia’s near-monoploy fuel ethanol producer and receives a biofuel grant from the Federal government of just over 38 cents per litre. (Mr Howard ensured Manildra received the grant while ethanol importers would not.) Manildra will soon have the capacity to produce around 120 megalitres per year. Anyone doing the sums will quickly realise that the 2% biofuel mandate to be implemented by the NSW government, not to mention the 40 megalitre/year contract BP recently signed with Manildra, will result in Manildra collecting large sums of taxpayers’ money.

Manildra asserts that its ethanol is solely derived from waste starch (i.e. fermentation of starch and sugars in the effluent stream of their Bomaderry gluten and starch operation. The plant separates wheat flour into gluten and starch. Some starch/sugars are lost to the liquid effluent stream). This makes them look greener than green. This is not the case.

Manildra has used corn starch from China and is currently negotiating with a Thai company (The THH Group) to supply tapioca chips to produce ethanol. Also, because of the huge profit margin on fuel ethanol, Manildra has been diverting more and more food-grade and industrial-grade starch to ethanol production. It is also rumoured that they are sending sugar from their Harwood sugar refinery to Nowra for ethanol production.

The result is obvious; The price of the starch and starch-based products (glucose, fructose, maltose, etc) that Manildra sells to food and beverage companies such as Fosters, Kraft, Cadburys and Nestle, and that are sold to industrial users such as Amcor, Visy and PaperlinX, must be increased so as to meet the profit margin enjoyed on the subsidised fuel ethanol.

In other words, the government’s fuel ethanol grant is leading directly to food-price inflation which is in turn contributing to higher interest rates.

Aside from the food-fuel-inflation issue, wasn’t the biofuel producers’ grant supposed to assist LOCAL agriculture, not that of Thailand and China, which just makes our trade deficit even worse? Similarly, before handing over OUR money, why hasn’t the Fed Government, the NSW Government or BP not demanded that Manildra provide a carbon/GHG lifecycle analysis and net energy analysis of their ethanol, as is now the case with biofuel suppliers to the EU market?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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