Minister’s ex-aide lobbied for mine firms


Minister’s ex-aide lobbied for mine firms

Amy Dale
The Daily Telegraph
February 11, 20133:20PM

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Called before ICAC … Ian McDonald / Pic: Craig Greenhill Source: The Daily Telegraph

IAN Macdonald has started a fiery stint in the ICAC witness box, telling the inquiry he cannot explain how a new mining tenement was created “smack bang on top of the Obeid family farm.”

He was smiling as he walked into ICAC’s headquarters, but the grin is gone from the face of the former mining minister as he now faces a grilling from the inquiry’s counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC.

Mr Watson asked him to explain how a mining tenement, created by his department in June 2008, ended up being “smack bang on top of the Obeid family farm.”

“I didn’t know about the Obeids’ having a farm in the new area,” Mr Macdonald said.

“It has to be by chance.”

He said the family “obviously took a lot of actions I wasn’t aware of” which resulted in them earning as much as $100 million from mining ventures in the Bylong Valley.

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FOR Ian Michael Macdonald, 22 years in public life as an MP and seven years as a minister could be about to end in disgrace.

The former resources minister is the second last witness in the long-running Operation Jasper inquiry.

Mr Macdonald arrived at the corruption watchdog’s Castlereagh St headquarters just before the end of the lunch break.

Mr Macdonald’s former chief of staff was receiving departmental emails from his ex boss’s staff in his new role lobbying for mining companies, ICAC hears.

The inquiry has been told Tony Hewson, who was the former resources minster’s chief of staff from 2004 to 2007 earned $740,000 from Felix Resources and White Energy while working as a lobbyist for them.

The corruption watchdog is tomorrow due to finish its explosive inquiry into Mr Macdonald and the allegation he rigged the tender process in 2008 for a coal mining exploration licence in the Bylong Valley to the potential $100 million benefit of the Obeid family.

White Energy were on the verge of taking over the Obeid linked Cascade Coal for $500 million, but the deal collapsed in 2011 as White Energy directors got a “whiff” of the controversial family’s involvement.

He was shown copies of emails from the resources department with details about the reopening of a coal mining licence at Moolarben.

Geoffrey Watson SC, the counsel assisting the inquiry, suggested to Mr Hewson that he was in “a very powerful position…being provided with direct access to inter-departmental advice (on mining licences).”

But Mr Hewson said much of the information he received from Mr Macdonald’s department was “valueless.”

The inquiry heard Mr Macdonald rang Mr Hewson 145 times in 2008, the year the Mt Penny tenement was created.
Mr Macdonald may take the stand this afternoon.

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