‘We pay for access’: Minerals Council’s admission on political donations

The Minerals Council of Australia has admitted it makes donations to political parties to gain access to politicians, an unusually candid statement from a donor about the influence of money in politics.

The mining lobby group’s submission to a Senate committee examining the role of donations in Australia’s political system contrasts with the explanations given by other lobby groups and businesses, which said their donations were intended to support democratic processes.

“The MCA makes the political contributions detailed above because they provide additional opportunities for the MCA to meet with members of parliament,”the Minerals Council said.

“The MCA uses these opportunities to update members of Parliament about conditions in the Australian minerals industry and the policy priorities of the MCA.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison with a lump of coal during question time at Parliament House last year. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In its submission, the organisation said it donated more than $90,000 to political parties over 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The Senate inquiry was established by Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers and is looking at ways to improve the integrity of the political system.

The chair of the committee, Greens leader Richard Di Natale, said the Minerals Council had “admitted what we’ve known all along” by saying it was paying for access.

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“Our democracy is broken when a major mining lobby group feels comfortable publicly saying they pay for access to the old parties without fear of any consequences,” Senator Di Natale said.

The Minerals Council, which played a critical role in high-profile campaigns against the former Labor government’s mining and carbon taxes, has recently clashed with its largest member company,BHP, over the lobby group’s advocacy for coal.

Chief executive Brendan Pearson, an advocate for new coal-fired power stations, stepped down in September after BHP said it was reviewing its membership.

Former Minerals Council chief executive Brendan Pearson. Photo: Paul Jeffers

In Crown Resorts’s submission to the committee, the gambling giant said the cost of campaigning meant “political parties in Australia rely heavily on donations in order to communicate their messages and policies” to the public.

“Crown makes donations to registered political parties to support the democratic and electoral process in Australia,” the company said in its the submission.

“Crown does not expect the monetary contributions made to registered political parties to have any outcomes for shareholders.”

ANZ Banking Group said it had a role to play in “supporting democracy” by making donations.

“Our donations are aimed at promoting the development of social and economic policies to benefit Australia,” the bank said.

The Insurance Council of Australia, which represents insurance companies, said it donated to help parties mount campaigns and support a “stable political environment”.

The Age

The rise of boutique travel, a new way to see the world

A new category of travel known as boutique travel is on the rise; a fully-immersive cultural experience while still being comfortable and safe at the end of the day. This article was sponsored byThe Adventure Travel Group

Somewhere between backpackers with their turtle-shell packs sleeping on steel bunk beds,and cashed-up travellers enjoying a $400-a-night resort is a thirdcategory of savvy travellers.

They’re called the boutique travellers. The category is the natural progression of the increasingly hipGen X –those who’d choose a moody hole-in-the-wall wine bar over a fine-dining table in a chef-hattedrestaurant.

They enjoy immersing themselves in left-field art galleries, listening to live music with the localsand buying handmadeat the markets over mass-produced counterparts.

Instead of following tours, they design their own –they rent cars while travelling in small groupsand write their own itineraries.

The rise in boutique travel is reflective of a changing travel industrylargely lead by the rise of the web, says Anthony Hill. Hill has worked and operated adventure travel companies inEurope, Africa, Latin America andAustralasia for over 30 years.

“Over the years I have followed how the travellers experiences and travel style has matured,” he explains.

“Where once the traveller would take the limited travel itineraries in brochures as gospel, now they use the internet to search and want to travel further aboard to more remote areas.

“This desire to experience the ‘real’ destinations that haven’t been overdeveloped for tourismhas created the need for boutique travel andtouring.”

Bhutan, on the Himalayas’ eastern edge is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes including steep cliff faces.

Anthony says boutique travel experiences can range from three star to five star accommodation right through to an Indian palace or remote tented camp. The appeal of the accommodation for the boutique traveller lies in the authenticity and personality the accommodation offers, not how fluffy the towels are or how cheap the beds are.

Often this means boutique accommodation is smaller, includingfamily-run bed-and-breakfasts, converted structures,stand-alone villas -accommodation that offers complimentary cultural immersion.

But travellers can encounter issues when bypassing the expertise of the travel agent and curating trips based on the information available online from vendors.

“Unfortunately the quality assurance in the industry has not kept up with this global expansion,” says Anthony

“Thismakes it difficult for travellers to compare and select the best hotel for themselves. Afour star hotel in Pariscan be a completely different standard to a fourstar in Phuket.”

It’s for this reasonAnthony says the savvy boutique traveller will still invest in the quality assurance and safety of travel companies like The Adventure Travel Group.

Recently his team created ijurni (ijurni南京夜网), a curation of tours for travellers who “like their creature comfortsbut also enjoy experiencing real destinations”.

“For this reason all of our ijurni packages feature local culture, local food and wine, history and local attractions,” he says.

Hill says the focus is on creatinga fully-immersive experience that is engaging for travellers from start to finish.

“Boutique touring is not all about the destination;it is about the journey and what happens enroute to that destination.”

This article was sponsored by The Adventure Travel Group

Verdict on lake stink welcomed

VERDICT: ANL managing director Patrick Soars at his Cooranbong site. He was “very happy” about the court’s decision to grant development consent. Picture: Rob HomerFor 18 years, the Cooranbong ponghas infuriatedresidents, andhad Lake Macquarie council at loggerheads with composting company Australian Native Landscapes (ANL).

But itappears a ruling in the Land and Environment Court could finally bring the long-running dispute to a compromise, with both sides welcoming the verdict of Commissioner Susan Dixon.

For ANL, a development application has been approved that will allow it to continue operatingat its Crawford Road site, where the company has been stationed since May, 2000.

And the council has been able to secure a raft of strict consent conditions – several of which ANL opposed – that it hopes will eliminate pollution and a stench that residents have labelled“indescribable”.

“We’re very happy about it,” said ANL managing director Patrick Soars.

“We’ve got the approval so we can move forward. The resolution is we’ve got a legal business here.”

In relation to the conditions, Mr Soars pointed out his company still had the right of appeal.

But a council spokeswoman presented a different view, arguingthe parties were at odds over the extent of controls needed to safeguard against pollution.

She said the judgement produceda favourable outcome for the council.

“Council was successful in obtaining conditions requiring a range of environmental controls for the site,” she said.

“These controls include prohibiting use of the existing leachate dam until appropriate environmental measures are implemented.”

In a written judgement, Commissioner Dixon also suggested it was the conditions –and not the DA approval itself–that was at the crux of the matter.

“This is not a case about whether development consent should be granted …but rather, what conditions should be imposed on any consent granted by the court,” it read.

“Parties have provided the court with competing versions of the draft conditions of consent.”

The case can be traced back to development approvals –granted by the council in the late 1980s – for composting at the site, which did not require any measures to stop polluted run-off draining down a slope into the environment.

In 2000, ANL constructed a dam,bunding and overflow area to contain the discharge and bring the facility into line with modern standards.

However over the yearsthere have been persistent complaints from neighbours, who claim they are plagued by foul odours from the site.

In 2015, Lake Macquarie council took the company to court over the alleged odours, in addition toconcerns about water and land pollution.

At the hearing, it was discoveredthere was no DA approval for either the dam, bunding or a wood-chip stockpiling area on the land.

ANL lodged a DA with the council, but it was not approved, on the basis it did not addressthe odour and pollution problems.

The company appealed to the Land and Environment Court, which granted it the consent this month, but with a series of conditions recommended by the council.

Those included an expanded overflow area for run-off, and operational plans focusedon combating odours and water pollution.

The court heard from residents, who alleged there had been in excess of 100 incidents at the site.

“Collectively, the local objectors told me that they have been impactedby offensive odours and noise from the operations on the site over a protracted period of time –and, that they continue to experience substantial adverse odour impacts,” Comissioner Dixon’s judgement read.

“They said their repeated complaints … to the EPA about offensive odour and noise from the activities on the site have, in effect, been ignored.”

An NSW EPA spokeswoman denied that was the case, saying it had placed “strict conditions” on ANL’s licence, including managing odour. She said licencewas being reviewedand additional conditions would be imposed, if necessary.

“The EPA has investigated and responded to reports of odour, this has involved inspections of the premises at different times of the day and night,” she said.

ANL’s lawyersargued that the council’sproposed conditions were unreasonable and invalid, because they were unrelated to the development at hand. They were instead mattes for the EPA to address, under the company’s environmental pollution licence.

However Commissioner Dixon disagreed.

“The council’s draft conditions do quite appropriatelyinclude operational conditions focused on controlling adverse odour and water pollution and unacceptable noise,” her judgement said.

The Buzz

REAL THING: Lauryn Hill will return to Australia for the first time since 2014 to perform at Bluesfest this Good Friday.SOUL INJECTION Byron Bay’s Bluesfest strengthened their line-up again on Thursday by adding ‘90s R’n’B icon Lauryn Hill to theEasterfestival. The USartistis famous for her time with The Fugees, that spawned hits like Killing Me Softy and her neo-soul classic solo recordThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.Hill performs on Good Friday and joins a line-up ofRobert Plant, Lionel Richie, Kesha, John Butler TrioandSheryl Crowe.

GUITAR MAESTRO Phil Emmanuel will introduce his new band to Newcastle audiences when he performs at the Wickham Park Hotel on February 9. The guitar legend’s latest band featuresChontia (vocals), ParrisMacleod (keyboards), Garry Ward (bass) and Tom De Voss (drums) and will perform songs from Emmanuel’slatest album, The Best So Far. Sydney blue-rockers Bounty Hunters will provide support.

LEARNING TOURCanberra indie-folk band The Gypsy Scholarsreleased new singleCold Handson Friday from their forthcoming debut EPand to celebrate they willplay the Lass O’Gowrie Hotel on February 2.

ROCK EXPERIMENT Blues-rocker The Amanda Emblem Experiment playsthe Stag and Hunter Hotel on Saturday to support her debut EPBitten By Love.All the tracks are linked by a similar lyrical theme.

CELTIC CABARETSpiegeltent Newcastle will feature a Celtic-folk make-over after Scotland’s Breabach were announced for the three-week cultural showcase.Traditionally Speigeltent has featured mostlycabaretacts, such as this year’s headliner Blanc de Blanc, who was the creative mind behind Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour.Breabach play at Spiegeltent on April 3.