At the heart of the allegation, according to reports in The Age daily and in a news broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corp, is an email from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources Manager (Refining and Fuels) Marie Taylor obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws by Greenpeace.
Taylor was alleged to have written, “The government’s decision to put this arrangement in place was made subject to SPP taking legal action against Greenpeace and with the understanding that the viability and environmental impacts of the project would be made clear within this 12-month window.” The “arrangement” Taylor was referring to a 2002 cabinet decision to provide SPP with a $36 million annual subsidy.
Federal Industry Minister Ian MacFarlane has acknowledged the email was genuine but argued the decision was made to “protect the jobs of workers at the SPP plant near Gladstone”. He was referring to the SPP’s Stuart shale oil project in central Queensland.
In a statement MacFarlane said, “Greenpeace’s accusation [is] wrong. On May 13 2002, the Howard government agreed to provide a temporary 12-month broadening of the assistance arrangements then in place and available to SPP. The funding agreement was part of the documentation provided to Greenpeace under their recent FOI request.”
“The subsequent funding agreement drawn up between the commonwealth and SPP to implement this decision makes no reference to any condition or requirement that SPP take legal action against Greenpeace [and] SPP did not take legal action against Greenpeace although the company was successful with an earlier injunction concerning Greenpeace action against SPP,” added MacFarlane.
The Minister’s reply has not silenced the ire of Greenpeace.
According to the organisation’s Climate Campaigner Gareth Walton, “The offer amounted to a government attempt to silence the group. Instead of making decisions in the public interest, the Howard government has been using taxpayers’ money to further its own political interest and the interests of a greenhouse-polluting industry.”
“[I call] on the government to publicly release all documents, including cabinet documents related to the decision, and for Labor, the Democrats and the Greens to establish a parliamentary inquiry after the October 9 election,” added Walton.
SPP went into receivership in December 2003 after failing to raise the finances necessary to keep the Stuart project going.