21 November 2018
Berejiklian Minister for Energy Don Harwin has been forced to confirm in Parliament today that serious allegations of corruption made by Planning Department whistleblower Rebecca Connor have been referred to the ICAC.
The referral comes as the Minister continued to face questions from the Opposition about whether his departmental staff were involved in an alleged breach of mining license conditions by Ridgelands Resources – a Hong Kong based mining company.
On Tuesday, the Newcastle Herald detailed extraordinary allegations about maladministration and corruption within the Resources and Geosciences Division of the NSW Planning Department – the agency responsible for the approval of mining licenses which reports to Minister Harwin.
Ms Connor’s allegations included claims that department officers solicited payments for gifts from mining industry representatives to their personal credit cards. Ms Connor was subsequently sacked in May after allegedly raising the claims with senior managers in the Department.
Yesterday in Question Time Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House and Shadow Minister for Energy and Adam Searle asked:
“Given the handling of the Ridgelands Resources Community Fund within the Department of Planning and the Minister’s refusal to answer questions connected to the departure of the Deputy Secretary Kylie Hargreaves, and now reports of serious allegations of a persisting culture of corruption within that part of the department that supports the Minister, will he now refer those matters to the Independent Commission Against Corruption?”
Mr Harwin referred Mr Searle to previous answers. Today Deputy Opposition Whip Greg Donnelly MLC asked:
“Given in your answer yesterday you committed to receiving a “full briefing” on matters raised by Rebecca Connor, what role will Acting Deputy Secretary of Planning Michael Wright have in preparing your “full briefing” given community concerns that senior departmental figures were involved in Ms Connor’s termination and knew of her attempted protected disclosure?”
The Minister then confirmed the Secretary of the Department of Planning had referred the matter to the ICAC.
The NSW Labor Opposition is joining with Hunter Central Rivers Alliance and other community groups, calling for an independent inquiry into the relationship between the NSW Department of Planning and the mining industry.
Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Energy, Adam Searle MLC:
“This is the Minister’s own department, responsible for the integrity of the mining approvals process in NSW.
“How can the people of NSW have any confidence in the decisions being made by the Department which impacts communities right across the state?
“At the very least this is a disturbing portrait of mismanagement in a key Berejiklian department – and it raises serious concerns about corruption.
“We need a full and external inquiry into all of these issues and why they were not addressed at the time, including the circumstances of Ms Connor’s dismissal.”