A cashed-up property developer who famously told the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) he felt like a “walking ATM” for politicians stands to win from the government’s much-lauded gas plan.
Jeff McCloy, the controversial former mayor of Newcastle who popped up last week as being the only stakeholder pushing NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro to blow up his own government over koala protections, is the joint owner of land flagged by Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor as the potential site of a new gas plant.
Taylor and Morrison announced plans last week to build a gas generator in Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley “should the market not deliver what consumers need” when AGL’s Liddell plant closes in 2023. The government is reportedly scoping out the site of the old Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter, which was purchased by McCloy and fellow developer John Stevens in January.
The developers said at the time that the purchase was the biggest of their careers and that the industrial part of the land would be ideal for either a solar farm or a gas peaking plant.
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Another prominent Hunter Valley developer Hilton Grugeon (who was also found by ICAC to have made undisclosed political donations to the NSW Liberal party), and his business partner Garbis Simonian, told the Newcastle Herald last week they were “delighted” with the PM’s support for a gas plant in Kurri Kurri as it would be a ready customer for their proposed $1.2 billion underground gas pipeline from Queensland to Newcastle.
McCloy and Grugeon were found by ICAC’s Operation Spicer in 2016 to have acted with the intention of evading the statewide ban on political donations from property developers. It followed evidence that McCloy gave admitting he handed thousands of dollars in envelopes to Liberal Party candidates ahead of the 2011 state election.
Labor MP Pat Conroy said the new gas projects raised more conflict of interest questions over the government’s highly criticised “gas-led recovery” plan.
“It’s a curious coincidence that two of the projects that would directly benefit from the government’s gas announcement are owned by people who have made very large donations to the Liberal party,” he told Crikey.
“The government should be very clear why they selected that site, and whether anyone who advised them on the gas plan has a direct commercial interest. It’s incumbent upon the government to assure the Australian people that no one advising them will directly benefit from their plans.”
Taylor was pushed yesterday after his speech to the National Press Club on whether any of the high-powered business leaders advising the government on its gas-led recovery, including former Fortescue boss Nev Power and Saudi Aramco board member Andrew Liveris, would personally benefit from the gas-led recovery plan.
Taylor refused to say. “Yes we get advice from the [National COVID-19 Coordination Commission] … we’ve had hundreds of people engaged every step of the way, but ultimately the decisions that we’ve announced last week and this week are our decisions,” he said.
Power has been criticised for being unable to say at a Senate inquiry hearing in May whether anyone on his commission would personally gain from the government’s gas plan.
Crikey tried to ask McCloy whether he had been in discussions with the government about turning the former smelter site into a gas plant. He did not return calls.
Taylor did not respond to questions about the site, and whether any Coalition donors would commercially benefit from the proposed plant.