CSG and coal mining stories

Wrong way to the top

In an era where corporations and governments are as clandestine as the rest of us are exposed, whistleblowers are denounced as traitors. Julian Assange is an asylum seeker in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Chelsea Manning in a US military prison and Edward Snowden on the run with death threats hanging over him. All three maintain they were acting in the public interest.

Their criminalisation clearly indicates the prerogative of the US government to suppress information that has proved to have serious diplomatic and international security implications.

Just so, an Australian whistleblower says she has had explosive evidence of an alleged criminal conspiracy silenced by bureaucratic obfuscation. Despite it, she has gone further to unearth and publish new proof.

Simone Marsh blew the whistle on what she saw as a conspiracy to break the law between gas mining companies and the Queensland and Federal governments. She spoke on Four Corners last year about alleged complicity between key players to fudge crucial environmental approvals for massive coal seam gas (CSG) projects. But her complaints, and telling evidence, were sidelined by a bureaucratic investigation that she says deliberately misled her.

Simone was a senior environmental specialist advising the Queensland Coordinator General on environmental and cumulative impact studies from gas mining projects in 2011-12.

While working on the projected $38 billion LNG (liquid natural gas) infrastructures in the Surat Basin of Southwest Queensland, she claims that her work was falsified and deleted by her superiors in government and the approvals were illegally rushed through.

“There was a high level of disregard for the process and the law,” said Simone. “I just feel like I was making sure that the legislation was being followed.”

She says that despite her repeated complaints, the approvals for the Queensland Gas Company (QGC) and Santos ignored the terms of reference under which the pertinent guidelines had been drawn up years earlier. She says that people at State and Federal level were complicit in fraudulently pushing the gas company’s incomplete approvals through and being paid off with golden handshakes and jobs in the gas industry.

And she says that she now has conclusive proof.

Simone and former Greens politician Drew Hutton, founder of anti gas mining group Lock the Gate, originally took her complaints to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission, after Four Corners aired her allegations on April 4, 2012.

Simone had taken stress leave after working on this process.

“I’ve seen a lot in more than a decade in that mining sector. I’d say that I was fairly understanding of the industry, but this whole LNG proposal was on a massively elevated scale, totally beyond anything I’d ever experienced before,” she said.

Her first interview with the Crime and Misconduct Commission was on February 14, 2013 and in ensuing weeks she was interviewed at length and then told to wait pending an investigation. Eight months later, on September 19, she was told that ‘the environmental and health impacts of the coal seam gas industry … do not fall within the CMC’s jurisdiction.”

Shocked that she was not told this when the investigation began, she countered that the complaints focussed on the failure of government departments to require the gas mining proponents to provide information required by environmental law. But her phone calls and emails were ignored.

Devastated by what she saw as further evidence of a concerted governmental effort to silence her, Simone withdrew altogether from her work.

Drew Hutton, a long-time thorn in the side of the CSG industry, had previously experience of being stonewalled on the issue.

“I started having talks with the Queensland Government around about 2010 and was assured then that this had been a done deal for some time. I was talking to the Premier’s Department and the Environment minister and they just laughed at me when I said to them that I was going to build a movement that would challenge them on this.”

“Simone comes into the picture in early 2010 when she gets put on to do the formal approvals, but everything was in place by that stage and she just got confronted with a decision which had already been made by faceless and nameless people before that.”

But Simone is a methodical woman whose employment in a top government advisory role had been no accident. While on stress leave she set about researching and documenting the train of events – and people involved, in setting up this alleged multi-billion-dollar fraud.

“I wanted to make sense of what I’ve witnessed and to share it with other people so they know the truth,” she said.

The truth lies in a crucial email, a new document obtained by Drew Hutton. The original, as provided under the Queensland’s Right To Information Act, had like so many others provided been so heavily redacted as to be useless. But this email in its entirety makes for an interesting reading of events.

Simone says that it demonstrates clearly the complicity of a number of proponents and proves a criminal conspiracy to subvert Australian law.

The email was from Ian Fletcher, the director and CEO of the Queensland Department of Employment and Economic Innovation (DEEDI), the same department responsible for granting petroleum exploration and production tenements.

“Ian Fletcher was a former managing director at the International Directorate in the UK Trade and Investment and he was also private secretary to the head of British Civil Service, a guy by the name of Sir Andrew Turnbull,” Simone explained.

“Around the time he came to Queensland was when the government put up their blueprint for the Queensland LNG industry, in September 2009 and Fletcher turned up in November 2009.”

It’s addressed to a number of people including the Queensland Coordinator General Colin Jensen and the treasurer, Andrew Fraser. Simone says that the three relevant paragraphs reproduced here demonstrate Fletcher instructing to ignore the terms of reference, created in 2009, and rush the approvals through.

The crucial part of the email reads:

(a) The drop dead date really is the June Board meeting. After that, customers will begin to go away, and the company will not continue with its investment. One or two weeks tidying up delay is possible, but six months (or anything like it) is not:

(b) On the Federal Government’s proposed resource super profits tax, the company is quietly confident that their negotiations with the Federal treasury are going to yield fruit. We will get more details later in the week: and

© On the EIS process, David Maxwell claimed there were two significant problems. One of these was the requirement for them to provide detailed engineering data for construction projects including ones well into the future. He said that this was “physically impossible” but went on to say he detected a degree of support for an approach were in-principle approval would be given subject to later provision of detailed engineering drawings, against which more detailed approvals would be granted. However, he then identified a second problem, the requirement to report in the EIS process against cumulative impacts. He said that QGC would find it impossible to report against the cumulative impacts of all proposed LNG investments by all known companies in the time available. He was prepared to continue, he said, to report against QGC’s own proposals, as well as those of Santos and other known investments in the Gladstone area, with a commitment to provide further information at the time other projects were being approved.

Simone observes:

“So if we look at the email we can see that it’s sent by Ian Fletcher to Treasurer Andrew Fraser and Andrew Fraser’s Under Treasurer at that time was a guy named Gerard Bradley, who is now the head of Queensland Treasury Corporation. It’s copied into Colin Jensen who was the Coordinator General at that time and it’s also copied to John Bradley who was at that time the Director General of the Environment Department (DERM).

“The subject line is David Maxwell QGC. At that time David Maxwell was one of the heads of QGC – a member of the British Gas group.

“At this stage, May 2010, QGC’s environment assessment had not commenced because the environment people had been focussed on the Santos project. QGC are now seeking approval between one or two weeks. But the document was 10,000 pages long.”

Simone says that this demonstrates the head of an international corporation telling the head of a government body to rush through its approvals, or lose its investment.

“This is a threat. They were saying to the government if they couldn’t get the go ahead to proceed pretty much immediately they would be pulling out their investment. When we saw they also did it to the Federal government later on it backs up that yes, they are using that method to threaten both levels of government.”

The approvals were actually signed five weeks later, in breach of the terms of reference.

“The Treasurer and the Premiers Department and the DEEDI don’t have responsibility for decision making under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act.

“It’s actually the job of the Coordinator General to run this EIS process and it’s his job to coordinate with the other departments and to gain their advice and their input, but what we saw happening here was we saw interference from Treasury and from Premier and Cabinet overriding the law and overriding the Coordinator General’s role. He’s told that he has to sign off that project without the normal information.”

Simone observes that the second point that Ian Fletcher makes is regarding the resource super profits tax that Prime Minister Rudd was trying to bring in at this time. Fletcher hints that his negotiations at a Federal level are going to “yield fruit”.

“They’re definitely referring to whatever is going on at the Commonwealth level at that time. We saw that the same week that this project was approved, Rudd was removed. It’s an interesting coincidence.”

Prior to that point the head of British Gas, Frank Chapman, had flown into Brisbane enroute to Canberra to discuss the tax arrangements with Kevin Rudd.

Simone, already on stress leave, had received an urgent call.

“The Project Director asked me to come in and he said he needed me to write the Greenhouse chapter of the QGC approvals that day. And I said that was ridiculous.

“I hadn’t read the EIS and I asked for more information from the proponent on their calculations and assumptions. He just told me to do the best I could and that the Coordinator General had been told that he had to have a copy of this in his bag that evening.

“I read the front page of the Weekend Australian that Saturday, which said that when Frank Chapman got a copy of this from Anna Bligh, signed off, he’d flown down to Canberra to meet with the Prime Minister to make a tax arrangement for his project, and that meeting never took place because Kevin Rudd exited on the Thursday – the day before.

“Martin Ferguson was Kevin Rudd’s resources minister and it’s been speculated that Ferguson was behind the destabilisation of the Rudd leadership.”

Both Ferguson and his top advisor now work in senior positions for APPEA (Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association), the peak fossil fuel industry body.

“After the Queensland government had ticked both of these projects off, the Federal Environment minister Peter Garrett stalled the project for three months at the Commonwealth level under the EPBC Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

“But they moved him out of that role and they moved Tony Burke into that role and within a matter of weeks Tony Burke had signed both of them off.”

The third point in Fletcher’s email regards the EIS process and the information requirements that the companies were supposed to provide.

“David Maxwell claims there were two significant problems – one of these to provide detailed engineering drawings.

“He said that was physically impossible but went on to say that he detected sympathy for an approach where in-principle support would be given subject to later provision of drawings. However he identified a different problem, the requirement to report in the EIS process against cumulative impacts. He said that QGC would find it impossible.

“The paragraph demonstrates that the companies didn’t provide the information that was required by the terms of reference and they’re stating in that paragraph that they can’t provide that information.

“So basically what paragraph C is saying is that this company was not able to meet the terms of reference that had been set at the beginning of the process twelve months earlier. They did not want to provide the maps of the infrastructure layout, they said it was impossible, but we know that’s not true. We’ve seen drawings that were dated 2009.”

Indeed the Four Corners program The Gas Rush from February 21, 2011, demonstrates that QGC had detailed maps of their proposed wells and pipeline infrastructure in 2007.

“Paragraph C is what Drew Hutton and I complained about to the Crimes and Misconduct Commission. We said that the government had broken the Environment Protection Act by granting the environmental authorities without the information required under Section 310D of the EPA. And this is the proof that the government and the companies knowingly broke that law.

“And there’s more proof when we look down at the last paragraph as well. Because it suggests that the government used another process entirely that was outside of the law to approve these projects and get the information that the law required after they’d already given approval.”

Ian Fletcher goes on to talk about an ‘interesting development’ in which David Maxwell said that QGC would like to appear in front of an LNG committee to explain its position of its inability to meet the terms of reference. At this point Fletcher suggests that what he whimsically terms a  ‘constitutional innovation’ be used to subvert this legal process. He also suggests that a kind of Star Chamber be used to consider QGC’s case.

This is a very English notion – a Star Chamber being an archaic court once used to try members of the royal family, nobility or other important people – the general implication being that not only were such proceedings highly

secret, but eminently corruptible.

In April 2013, as yet unaware of the existence of this email, Simone had been ‘quietly confident’ that the gas mining proponents weren’t going to get the go ahead from the Federal government.

“I had gone down to Canberra and met with the senior public servants who were looking at the Federal Environmental approvals. I’d explained the situation and that we had no information and the scale of this proposal and at the end of that day the leader of that environment assessment team said there was no way her minister would be able to sign off on those projects under Commonwealth law, due to the huge amount of unknowns and so I’d gone back to Brisbane thinking, well that’s a relief, they’re not going to allow it through.

“The other reason was that I had advised the people above me that they were breaking the law under the sections I’d talked about previously and I’d gone with them across to their lawyers in George Street in Brisbane and explained this to them and they had received some legal advice and following that a letter was sent to Santos’ head of Eastern Australia at that time who was Rick Wilkinson, telling Rick that the Santos project needed to provide all that information, so at that stage I was quietly confident that we were actually going to do a proper process.”

But today the gas fields of the Surat Basin are in full operation and Santos has expanded its operations south into NSW. They have an exploratory license in the Pilliga forest, where at least 850 wells are planned. While there have been at least 17 serious waste water spills in this, the largest bio diverse hotspot in inland NSW, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed at breakneck speed by the NSW government in March 2013.

Simone Marsh sees a similar pattern emerging in NSW as she witnessed in Queensland.

“They’ll be doing exactly the same thing there as they did up here. It’s the same modus operandi. Our country’s been invaded. It’s shocking.”

Simone says her emails, and those of Drew Hutton have been hacked after they released the crucial email evidence to the Mining Leaks website.

“I’ve lost complete trust in the government and the industry. I can’t work with either of them.”

As Santos assures the public that it is following best environmental practise in the Pilliga, eight farmers have been arrested so far in blockades delaying work on the project. The disparity between what they believe and what mining corporations and governments are telling them has never been clearer.

. On February 18, 2014 the EPA confirmed that Santos had been fined $1500 for a leaking waste water pond that had transmitted uranium particles up to 20 times above safe drinking levels to a nearby aquifer.

While its also been confirmed that Santos are the National Party’s biggest donors, the spotlight in NSW has fallen on corruption as two successive Resources ministers of opposing parties are now under investigation by ICAC.

Both Eddie Obeid and Christopher Hartcher have been implicated with ties to a company known as Australian Water Holdings. The director of that group is one Tony Bellas, a former Queensland under treasurer deputy treasurer with oversight of government and corporations. Between 2009 and 2012 he was working for a company called Queensland Infrastructure Partners and that company was owned by John Grayson, who was also a director at Queensland Treasury Corporation until 1999 and is currently the director General of Campbell Newman’s Department of Premier and Cabinet. John Grayson is a board member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which has came under fire for its soft stance on port developments near the reef.

He also owns 16% of a company called Gasfields Water Management, most of which is owned by Australian Water Holdings. Eddie Obeid’s son sold off his shares in the company last year. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s legal investigator found last year that Mr Grayson had no conflict of interest.

Simone Marsh sees a similar pattern emerging in NSW as she witnessed in Queensland.

“They’ll be doing exactly the same thing there as they did up here. It’s the same modus operandi. Our country’s been invaded. It’s shocking.”

Simone is re-training in psychology and says she would never again work in her previous field. She says her emails, and those of Drew Hutton have been hacked after she released the email to the Mining Leaks website.

“I’ve lost complete trust in the government and the industry. I can’t work with either of them. I’m a single parent so I basically have to sell my house right now because I’ve used up all my savings and I’m going to use my equity in my home to fund my retraining.”

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