Did Premier go too far with Adani $1b loan veto?
PREMIER Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday, in my opinion, did not fully explain why she went well beyond the Integrity Commissioner's advice when she advised her government would veto a possible $1billion federal loan to Adani.
On Friday she dropped a bombshell on Central Queensland when she said her government would not support the Northern Australian Infrastructure loan for Adani - "to remove doubt about any perception of conflict".
Ms Palaszczuk had revealed her partner, Shaun Drabsch, worked on the loan application to the NAIF with his employer, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which acted for Adani.
The Premier said (see statement below) last week she became aware of an "LNP smear" campaign against her and MrDrabsch prompting her to seek advice from the Integrity Commissioner which she said she acted on.
Here are the Commissioner's options in summary:
1. (Preferred option) Declare a conflict of interest and exclude yourself from all cabinet deliberations on NAIF projects. The relevant Cabinet subcommittee would still have a quorum without the Premier.
2. Declare a conflict of interest but maintain no knowledge of what projects your partner is working on.
3. Declare a conflict of interest and through separate government processes establish which projects your partner is working on and only exclude yourself from discussions on those projects.
Nowhere in her preferred option does the Integrity Commissioner suggest the Premier veto the loan. In fact, it says she needs to exclude herself from all cabinet decisions on the NAIF project which presumably includes a veto.
When pressed on this yesterday in a Brisbane press conference, as reported by The Australian, the Premier confirmed she alone had made the decision to veto the NAIF loan, even though the Integrity Commissioner specifically said she should not be involved in any decisions about NAIF projects.
"I'm the Premier of this state. I make decisions," Ms Palaszczuk said, according to The Australian.
"Can I just say, I'm sick and tired ... of people saying you don't make decisions. I have made a decision. I make decisions every single day. And what I have said is if we are re-elected, I will send that letter to the Australian Government (regarding the NAIF veto)."
The Australian reported that the Integrity Commissioner said only the Cabinet Budget Review Committee can veto the NAIF loans (in the end stages of NAIF's deliberations) and Ms Palaszczuk should absent herself from all CBRC deliberations and decision-making about all NAIF loans.
On Friday she said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could "still give taxpayers' money to Adani if he wants to, but I won't stand for his LNP operatives trying to smear my good name".
Rockhampton based senator Matthew Canavan yesterday said he had canvassed Senate colleagues and no one was aware of the smear campaign. He said under constitutional rules a state must sign the NAIF project finance documents with the project proponent and have a role in management of the loan.
Adani, which already has 250 people working on its $16billion mine project and has made Rockhampton a key fly-in-fly-out hub for 1700 workers as the mine progresses, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Australian last week said Adani had turned to China to help finance the giant mine. The company declined to comment on the progress of funding.
A spokesman for the Premier responded to emailed questions sent yesterday morning before the press conference:
Q: Why has a Premier with such integrity and unblemished reputation, acted on a rumour when she and her partner have done nothing wrong?
A: As the Premier said she wanted to put the issue beyond any doubt.
Q: Has she considered the potential impact of her decision on the people of CQ?
A: Adani have said on numerous occasions, including to The Morning Bulletin on October 13 that they did not require finding from the NAIF. NAIF is a federal government initiative and federal government funding. The Premier has been critical of NAIF's failure to fund any projects in Qld.
Q: If you are going to throw up the excuse that Adani has said it doesn't need the NAIF loan, why did the State support the loan in the first place?
A: The assessment of projects under the NAIF is a matter for the Federal Government. This process had yet to involve the Queensland Government.
Q: The Integrity Commissioner proposed three options. The preferred option was the Premier exclude herself from any deliberations on any NAIF project. Why didn't she take this option?
A: The Premier did implement that option and wrote to the Chair of the Cabinet Budget Review Committee (Treasurer Curtis Pitt) to advise him that she would be implementing the preferred option of the Integrity Commissioner.
Q: If the Premier won't reconsider her position, why can't a new government, if it is Labor, reconsider the NAIF loan without the Premier's involvement if she is still concerned about a possible conflict of interest?
A: NAIF decisions are for the Federal Government, not the Qld Government.
Q: Given the potential for the Premier's partner to be involved in a range of projects across Qld, shouldn't the Premier remove herself from all future decisions on such projects to avoid a repeat of this scenario?
A: The Premier has done this in accordance with the Integrity Commissioner's advice and the letter to the Treasurer confirms this.
Q: If not, what will she be doing to protect the state from further foul-ups like this?
A: See above. The Premier has taken this action immediately after receiving the Integrity Commissioner advice on Friday.
Premier's statement on FRIDAY:
Since 2015, Shaun has worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers in a part-time advisory capacity in infrastructure financing.
When Shaun took on this role, the PwC managing partner - Brisbane wrote to me to assure me they would avoid conflicts of interest in Shaun's role and in my job as Premier of Qld.
On receipt of the letter at the time, my director-general sought advice from the Integrity Commissioner and I continue to follow that advice.
On Tuesday, my chief of staff advised me of a rumour circulating among LNP senators about Shaun's work.
I am told they planned to use this during the election campaign to impugn my character and suggest something untoward.
The facts are: PwC acted for Adani on their application to the Federal Government's Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
Shaun assisted PwC's work, as a member of its national Infrastructure Advisory team, only at a Federal level, and this was after the mining leases were approved.
Upon hearing about this LNP smear, I sought further advice from the Integrity Commissioner and I have received that advice this afternoon.
Let me make it absolutely clear - I guard my integrity most dearly.
Queenslanders should expect nothing less from anyone seeking the high office of Premier of this state.
I have complied with the advice of the Integrity Commissioner at every step.
I want to put beyond any doubt that this is nothing more than an LNP smear.
The government I lead will leave no doubt in the minds of every Queenslander about our absolute integrity.
This afternoon, I announce that my government has had no role to date in the Federal Government's NAIF loan assessment process for Adani - now we will have no role in the future.
To action my decision, I propose to write to the Prime Minister to notify him that my government will exercise its "veto" to not support the NAIF loan - and to remove doubt about any perception of conflict.
Can I say this about the Carmichael Coal project - at the last election I promised to stop the Newman-Nicholls LNP Government gifting $500 million of taxpayers' money to Adani.
I also promised that not one cent of taxpayers' money would go to this company.
I have kept those commitments to Queenslanders.
This afternoon, I announce that my Government has had no role to date in the Federal Government's NAIF loan assessment process for Adani - now we will have no role in the future.
To action my decision, I propose to write to the Prime Minister to notify him that my Government will exercise its "veto" to not support the NAIF loan - and to remove doubt about any perception of conflict.
As we are in caretaker mode, a decision like this requires the support of the Opposition Leader.
I will be asking Mr Nicholls to endorse my decision.
In terms of the project itself, Adani representatives have been on the public record numerous times indicating that they do not need NAIF to proceed with this project.
I want to stress that the NAIF is a Federal Government initiative. We are not the decision-makers, it's the Federal Government.
Malcolm Turnbull can still give taxpayers' money to Adani if he wants to, but I won't stand for his LNP operatives trying to smear my good name.
I do acknowledge many Queenslanders have concerns about the potential for the Federal Government providing a loan to Adani.
I support the projects and the jobs it will deliver. I know how important it is to the people of North Queensland to have a job.
As I said at the outset, my integrity is central to who I am as Premier and what I do in this job.