Friday, 22 February 2013 09:01
New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has indicated his government will block a controversial mine on farmland owned by the Obeid family, as he pledged to wipe the stain of corruption from government.
The government sought advice from Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Commissioner David Ipp about whether it should suspend or cancel licences granted by Labor's former mining minister Ian Macdonald.
In a letter sent to Mr O'Farrell on Wednesday night, Mr Ipp made no recommendations about the suspension or cancellation of any leases.
But he pointed out the development application for the mine at the centre of the ICAC investigation, involving former MP Eddie Obeid's Mount Penny farm, had not yet been completed.
It was now open to the government to apply a "public interest test" when considering any development or lease application, he said.
"In light of the nature of the evidence to date in the public inquiry, the substantial media publicity that has arisen as a result of that evidence and the general notoriety of the issues which are the subject of that evidence, public interest criteria should be applied to any decision," Mr Ipp said.
This course of action was open to the government "irrespective of any factual findings the commission may ultimately make", he added.
The ICAC is investigating claims Mr Macdonald rigged a 2008 tender process for coal exploration licences in the Bylong Valley to benefit Mr Obeid and his family, who stand to make up to $100 million in what could be the biggest corruption-linked profit in Australian history.
"The revelations, the evidence, the material presented to ICAC to date has been extraordinary," Mr O'Farrell said during question time.
"It's cast a shadow over public administration in NSW. They have stained the reputation of all those who have toiled honestly and hard in this parliament over the past 157 years of its history."
Tabling Mr Ipp's letter in parliament, Mr O'Farrell said cabinet had agreed to take into account the evidence before ICAC when considering any application from developer Cascade Coal.
Ministers also agreed to consider the "most suitable immediate administrative or legislative mechanism to achieve that outcome".
"The scale and the breadth of the allegations heard at the ICAC have shocked us all," Mr O'Farrell said.
"Let me be very clear that I will do everything I can to protect the interests of NSW taxpayers. I will do everything I can to restore the integrity in government."
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said Mr O'Farrell needed to suspend the exploration licence.
"What we've got now is more uncertainty and an even bigger mess," Mr Buckingham told.
"All that's been addressed is a possible public interest test when it comes to the assessment of the development application.
"The community wants this exploration licence suspended. The government could legislate."
Pic: New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell.
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