CFMEU braces for next chapter in ICAC probe
By Nonee Walsh, ABCUpdated March 16, 2013, 8:12 am
The coal miners’ union is bracing itself for a damaging series of revelations from an anti-corruption inquiry involving a well-respected former leader.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) probe into the granting of mining licences to entities connected to the family of New South Wales Labor Party powerbroker Eddie Obeid has already damaged the ALP.
Now the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is bracing itself for a reputational hit in the next part of the inquiry, which is due to begin on Monday.
The CFMEU’s former national secretary, John Maitland, is staying out of the public eye at the moment and has cancelled today’s public auction of a $1.6 million farm near Kempsey on the NSW north coast.
However the former union veteran still has $5-million-worth of property on the market, including a $3 million property in Victoria owned through his family company, Jonca.
Mr Maitland bought the farms after he became a multi-millionaire just four years after retiring as CFMEU head.
That wealth came on the back of an investment of less than $200,000 and a mining licence issued by his friend, the then state mining minister, Ian Macdonald.
It was the same year Mr Maitland became a Member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his services to international and Australian industrial relations.
Now, the unravelling of the story of the rise from union man to rich mining investor threatens to drag in his former union colleagues.
Doyles Creek licence
The ABC understands a number of mining union officials have been called to give evidence to the ICAC about the Doyles Creek coal exploration licence, and the associated $10 million share price windfall to Mr Maitland.
Just two months after he left the union Mr Maitland began buying shares in a company called Nucoal. A $1 shelf company was also established, which became Doyles Creek Mining.
Among Mr Maitland’s plans was for an operation to train people to work in underground mines.
Some time after his first approach to Mr Macdonald about his training mine, Mr Maitland became a director and later chairman of Doyles Creek Mining.
The training mine idea had been proposed a decade before, when Mr Obeid was minerals minister, and it had been a strong interest of Mr Maitland in his time at the CFMEU.
A plan for a large coal mine to fund it between the town of Jerrys Plains and the Wollemi National Park was rejected between 1999 and 2000 by the state government because the area was environmentally sensitive.
But the licence for a training mine and exploration licence was issued by Mr Macdonald in late 2008, against departmental advice, to Doyles Creek Mining.
Doyles Creek was then taken over by Nucoal and, when the company was publicly floated in 2010, Mr Maitland sold almost $6-million-worth of shares. After that, he began buying up the farms he is now selling.
The veracity of letters of support for the Doyles Creek licence sent to government is likely to be examined by the ICAC.
The apparent authors are Labor politicians including Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, along with a who’s who of union officials and entities associated with the mining union.
When Mr Maitland retired in 2006, the union’s then national president, Tony Maher, lauded “the Maitland effect” on the reputation of the union and the Labor movement.
“Wherever he goes he is hailed as a long-lost brother and treated as a king. And rightly so,” he said at a farewell in 2006.
Now Mr Maitland’s name cannot be found on the CFMEU website. According to sources in the union, the reaction he now prompts is shock and disappointment as the union nervously awaits the latest ICAC revelations.
A union spokesperson said officials are unable to comment based on legal advice.