angus taylor wearing a hardhat
Energy Minister Angus Taylor (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

A grant where an eligibility criterion was that you were the company named in the criterion — and you still failed to meet it. One handed out before the “strategic study” that was supposed to justify it. To a company that admitted it couldn’t do what it was being paid to do, when other, better rated projects missed out.

Welcome to the world of Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison’s fossil fuel obsession, unmasked in forensic detail by the auditor-general.

As part of its determination to encourage more fossil fuel use and support coal-fired power — and stop fractious Queensland Nationals from whining too loud — the Morrison government in 2019 decided to give an outfit called Shine Energy $4 million to do a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power plant at the site of an old plant in Collinsville in Queensland.

Shine Energy claims to be a “traditional owner company” but local Indigenous representatives accused the company’s owner of using Indigenous connections as a “smokescreen”. As Guardian Australia pointed out, Shine is part-owned by an Israeli-Australian who posts QAnon material.

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The other problem with the Shine proposal was that no one wanted a coal-fired power station in the region. As Simon Holmes a Court noted, the Australian Energy Council rejected it as lacking a commercial case. Shine Energy itself has never built anything. Angus Taylor insisted that the need for more power generation had been established by an independent study, but no one has been able to find it. Scott Morrison backed a new facility in Collinsville as well.

Despite that, early last year Shine Energy got handed $3.3 million by the government under the “Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure” program for power in North Queensland. This wasn’t a normal grants program where the government invites applications and the best one wins. This was an ad hoc grants program where selected proponents are invited to apply.

One project was Blue Hydro, which received $2 million. That grant was totally above board, according to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). But Shine Energy needed, erm, a little help across the line, even though one of the eligibility criteria was “Is the applicant Shine Energy?”.

A big problem was that the government was also using the program to obtain “a strategic study to examine northern and central Queensland’s current and future energy needs”. That is, it was going to fund specific projects at the same time as commissioning a study, which would rely heavily on consultations with stakeholders, on what projects might be needed.

Taylor wanted to hand the money to Shine in August 2019 but when he checked with the Prime Minister’s Office, someone there twigged that it would look weird handing out any money before the study was completed, so Taylor was told to wait until the study was completed.

Taylor’s department then inserted a new reporting requirement for the firm conducting the study for a “Phase One Findings Presentation” in December 2019. That meant just 22% of stakeholders had actually been consulted before Shine was picked.

When the study was completed, Shine was ranked below two other projects and Blue Hydro, and on the same level as three others. All missed out on funding. There was only one other coal project among the lot.

What happened to the study? It was binned. Taylor’s department never even bothered to brief him on it.

The other big problem was that Shine, despite repeated extensions of the due date for the application, kept stuffing it up, and when it finally got it in, it made clear that Shine wouldn’t be able to fulfil one of the other key criteria: conducting a bankable feasibility study. That was the whole point of the grant — and Shine admitted it couldn’t get a proper study done in time. Shine therefore:

did not meet a number of the eligibility requirements. This was because it will not result in a bankable feasibility study being produced by 30 June 2021… the application that was awarded funding related to the first two (of four) stages of a feasibility study with funding sources for the remaining stages not identified …

Shine also included some costs in its application that the department thought shouldn’t be paid for by taxpayers. So they recommended to Taylor that Shine only get $3.3 million, and left the fact that they knew Shine couldn’t get the study done, and therefore was ineligible for its very own bespoke grant, to the back of the brief.

The auditors add a little grace note to proceedings: Angus Taylor uses private email accounts for work. “Various documents were emailed by a Ministerial adviser to the Gmail or MSN email accounts of the minister,” relating to the grants.

The department says it has told Taylor and his office about the fact that they need to be compliant with the Commonwealth’s IT security policies. Presumably to no avail.

You’d think Angus Taylor would be a bit more careful about documents going to and from his office.