NSW upper house MP Ian Macdonald, the Minister for Energy, Mineral Resources, State Development and Primary Industries, has the critical portfolios that make him a major player in Premier Morris Iemma’s plan to sell the State’s power facilities to Chinese bidders and expand coalmining in partnership with Beijing’s energy mandarins.
After Mr Iemma, Mr Macdonald has become one of the government’s most travelled ministers, logging up travel expenses worth $67,336 in four trips to China, Hong Kong, Japan, India and the United States in the 12 months to February this year.
His taxpayer-funded travel will rise even higher after it includes the 10-day mission to China in May when he accompanied Iemma on a business blitz with corporate CEOs.
During that trip, Mr Macdonald introduced others in the official delegation to a mystery businessman, Alan Fang, whose Chinese name is Fang Wenquan, chairman and managing director of the Tianda Group which has wide interests in pharmaceuticals, tobacco and mining.
Premier’s Department officials said this week Mr Fang was an official member of Macdonald’s party and acknowledged he accompanied Mr Macdonald during official meetings with Chinese government representatives.
Others in Macdonald’s entourage were Dr Richard Sheldrake, director-general of the Department of Primary Industries, Tony Hewson, Macdonald’s former chief of staff and the ex-mayor of Young, and media adviser Jason Bartlett, who formerly worked for Grant McBride when he was the NSW gaming and racing minister.
In a show of lavish generosity, Mr Yang chartered an executive plane to fly Mr Macdonald and his party from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in the south, to Lanzhou, capital of the north-west province of Gansu.
Presumably it meant a saving on airline tickets that had already been purchased but the arrangement surprised protocol officials from the Premier’s office.
Tianda’s website reported the Iemma mission this way:
The Hon Morris Iemma, the Premier of NSW, and the Hon Ian Macdonald, the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Energy, Mineral Resources and State Development, have visited China accompanied by Mr Alan Fang, the Chairman of Tianda Group and Tianda Resources from May 15 to May 26.
The Tianda site boasted that Fang and Macdonald held talks with the Chinese Communist Party chief in Gansu province and the governor of Yunan province, adding somewhat incoherently: “All parties wished to look for on-going expansion on mineral resources projects, and to build up win-win situation by encouraging more investments and cooperation.”
Mr Fang is particularly interested in a “win-win situation” for a massive coalmining project planned at Gunnedah in north-western NSW where Chinese and Australian companies are vying for lucrative leases and licences.
Tianda, which lists a research partnership with Sydney University’s herbal medicine research and education centre, has a mining division dedicated to “the development of mineral and energy resources”.
“In Australia, the exploration licences granted to Tianda Resources in Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory cover more than 6,000 square kilometers, presenting an extensive tenement package highly prospective for uranium, base metals and iron ore,” the company said.
“Moreover, the company also owns many coal mines and other minerals exploration projects in NSW.” Yet the NSW Minerals Council has no record of any mining investments in the state.
Tianda, which means “to grow and develop day-by-day” in mandarin, is headquartered in Hong Kong with regional offices at Sydney’s Circular Quay and China’s burgeoning commercial city of Shenzhen.
Mr Fang, who lives part of the year in Mosman on Sydney’s North Shore and drives a Rolls Royce, is a businessman to watch as the embattled Iemma Government tries to propel NSW into a mining-led recovery to emulate the “booms” in Queensland and WA.