ONE of the “well-connected entrepreneurs” granted a lucrative mining licence by former NSW minister Ian Macdonald couldn’t wipe the smile off his face after signing the deal over a magnum of pinot noir, an inquiry has heard.
“I can’t wipe the smile off my face, merry bloody Christmas,” an email from Craig Ransley reads.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is probing whether the former mines minister gave an improper benefit to former union boss John Maitland and his associates Mr Ransley and Andrew Poole, relating to the licence allocated to Doyles Creek Mining in the NSW Hunter region in December 2008.
Mr Macdonald had no basis to “essentially gift” the licence worth tens of millions of dollars to the group, the inquiry heard on Monday.
The ICAC’s Operation Acacia is also looking at whether Mr Macdonald took improper steps to overcome departmental advice and if he concealed any improper behaviour.
On the first day of hearings, counsel assisting the commission, Peter Braham SC, said Mr Macdonald would likely claim to the inquiry that he followed departmental advice in granting the licence.
That version of events would be “entirely repudiated”, Mr Braham said.
“We consider it likely that the facts will demonstrate that when Mr Macdonald issued the invitation to Doyles Creek, he did so without any proper basis,” he said in his opening address on Monday.
The inquiry heard that a key issue would be why Mr Macdonald made the “astounding” decision to ignore departmental advice in issuing the licence to the entrepreneurs, rather than hold a competitive tender.
He said Mr Macdonald did not even tell the department when he decided to issue the licence, behaviour Mr Braham labelled as “unprecedented”.
The proposal submitted by Doyles Creek Mining was for a training mine, but was for “in fact a mining mine”, he told the inquiry.
Doyles Creek had been a “financial disaster” for the people of NSW and a “gold mine for the entrepreneurs”, he said.
Mr Braham said evidence would indicate Mr Macdonald and Mr Maitland were mates and that had resulted in Mr Macdonald being predisposed “to show favour to Mr Maitland”.
The inquiry would also investigate whether Mr Ransley or Mr Poole were involved in any wrongdoing in relation to the critical tenement.
The three men made profits of just under $50 million from their involvement in Doyles Creek, the inquiry heard.
The inquiry was told Mr Maitland outlaid about $165,000 and within three years of the grant the investment was worth about $15 million.
It’s alleged Mr Ransley invested $318,367 for a profit of just under $15 million, while Mr Poole outlaid $364,648 and profited to the tune of around $18 million.
The exploration licence was signed by Mr Macdonald in the presence of the entrepreneurs over an $1800 meal at the upmarket Catalina’s at Rose Bay, the ICAC heard.
“As the ink dried, a magnum of pinot noir helped wet the celebration,” Mr Braham said.
Outside the inquiry, CFMEU mining and energy general secretary Andrew Vickers said the union had rejected requests from Mr Maitland to back the training mine project.
He said the union had never been involved in any wrongdoing regarding the licence.
“The union per se has not, was not, and will not be involved in any suggested corruption or misdoing with the granting of the exploration licence,” he told reporters.
The inquiry will continue on Wednesday before Commissioner David Ipp. –AAP