Greg Combet backed tainted mine, ICAC hears


Greg Combet backed tainted mine, ICAC hears

Amy Dale
The Daily Telegraph
April 24, 2013 12:00AM

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CLIMATE Change Minister Greg Combet will be questioned about a letter he wrote endorsing a controversial training mine proposal as he becomes yet another politician ordered into the ICAC witness stand next week.

In the letter, Mr Combet urged the now disgraced resources minister Ian Macdonald to support the idea of a training mine in the Hunter Valley. It is expected ICAC will ask him about how he was approached to write the letter discussing its “benefits”.

Mr Combet, like others called to the inquiry because of support they gave for the mine, is not accused of wrongdoing.

ICAC has heard the idea, the brainchild of former union boss John Maitland and a cohort of investors, took what should have been a lucrative coal resource to the state and turned it into a “goldmine” for the Doyles Creek Mining group.

The inquiry has been told Mr Maitland’s $165,000 investment turned into a $15 million windfall within three years.

After close to six months of evidence in a three-part inquiry into alleged corruption by the former state Labor government, including an investigation into Mr Macdonald’s granting of the exploration licence to Doyles Creek without a competitive tender, ICAC is entering its final weeks of evidence.

Mr Combet confirmed yesterday that he had given a statement to ICAC as requested and would be called on May 3.

A September 2008 letter he wrote in support of the training mine idea spruiked by Doyles Creek Mining investors has been tendered to the inquiry.

Mr Combet was voted in as the federal member for Charlton, which covers the Lake Macquarie area, in 2007 and had previously led the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

“The proposal by Doyles Creek Mining to develop a world-class training facility in the Hunter Valley, in the event that an underground mine proceeds, will in my view make a significant contribution to meeting the skills shortage that exists in the mining industry,” the note, written on his electorate letterhead, states.

Mr Combet wrote that the proposed involvement of Newcastle University, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service and the Hunter Valley Training Company – which were all approached by Doyles Creek investors – “will ensure there is broad community benefit and confirms that this project deserves strong support”.

Yesterday Mr Combet welcomed the ICAC inquiry and defended his letter, saying it occurred after representations from Mr Maitland.

“In those representations, Mr Maitland disclosed no personal interest in the project, nor that the proposal in fact involved a large commercial mine,” he said. “I hope ICAC gets to the bottom of the Doyles Creek issue.”

State Opposition Leader John Robertson yesterday called for bipartisan support to have the Doyles Creek mining licence suspended while the ICAC corruption investigation was continuing.

ICAC Commissioner David Ipp has indicated that even if the deal was found to have been corruptly obtained, there was a possibility NuCoal, which took over Doyles Creek in 2010, could be allowed to keep the lease if they paid a penalty to the government.

The inquiry continues.

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