Budget Estimates Hearings 21/08/2014: Luke Foley Questions Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner



Thursday 21 August 2014

Examination of proposed expenditure for the portfolio area


The Committee met at 9.00 a.m.



The Hon. N. Maclaren-Jones (Chair)
The Hon. N. Blair (Deputy Chair) Mr S. MacDonald
Ms J. Barham
Mr J. Buckingham
The Hon. A. Searle
The Hon. W. W. Secord
The Hon. L. A. Foley The Hon. M. S. Veitch
The Hon. P. Green The Hon. S. J. R. Whan


The Hon. Andrew StonerDeputy Premier, Minister for Trade and Investment, Minister for Regional Infrastructure and Services, Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Minister for Small Business, and Minister for the North Coas

MARK IAN PATERSON, Secretary, NSW Trade and Investment, sworn and examined:

JEANNINE BIVIANO, Deputy Secretary, Finance Strategy and Operations, NSW Trade and Investment, and

ANGUS ARMOUR, Deputy Secretary, Industry Innovation Hospitality and The Arts, NSW Trade and Investment, affirmed and examined:


CHAIR: I declare the proposed expenditure for the portfolio of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services, Tourism and Major Events, Small Business, and the North Coast open for examination.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Can I start by asking why you signed the memorandum of understanding [MOU] with Santos concerning the Narrabri gas project rather than your Minister for Resources and Energy?

Mr ANDREW STONER: The simple answer to that question, Mr Foley, is that I was the Acting Premier at the time. Santos had a desire to sign an MOU about a process and some time frames—not outcomes, I stress—with the Premier of the State, as they had done previously in other jurisdictions.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I am interested in the clusters inside the Government. Is it the case that as the senior Minister in the principal Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services you have, on occasion, cause to deal with resources and energy matters?

Mr ANDREW STONER: Only in the sense of budgetary matters or the broader strategic policy matters, not in a direct portfolio sense.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: What involvement, if any, have you had in the Government's dealings with the Maules Creek coal project?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I have not had any involvement in that project or any other resource projects in that portfolio sense, neither have I had any involvement as a cluster Minister.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: But you have met with the proponents of the Maules Creek coal project, have you not?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I have met—I think certainly in opposition. I would have to check my diaries to see whether that has occurred since I came into government.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: You have met with former Nationals Federal leader Mark Vaile, chairman of Whitehaven Coal, and discussed Maules Creek?

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Point of order: The Minister has clearly answered that this is outside his direct portfolio area and the Minister has clearly answered that he has not had responsibility for this area in his jurisdiction. The member's questions should have been more accurately directed towards the relevant Minister.

The Hon. STEVE WHAN: To the point of order: Mr Stoner is the senior portfolio Minister and he has by definition responsibility for all those areas under him.

CHAIR: Order! I will allow the question. I remind the Hon. Luke Foley to keep his questions within the portfolio.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Deputy Premier, you have met with Mark Vaile, the former Nationals Federal leader, chairman of Whitehaven Coal, and discussed the Maules Creek coal project, have you not?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I have already answered that question. I said that I can certainly recall doing so in opposition; I am not sure whether I have since being in government. I will have to check my diary records and come back to you. I meet with thousands of people over the course of a calendar year and that includes the proponents of large-scale resource projects like Maules Creek. I do so in my role as Minister for Trade and Investment because these represent very significant investments in New South Wales and they also represent the creation of many jobs, which is within my direct portfolio purview. However, in relation to the approval of any development application, the issue of any mining licences or exploration licences, I haveabsolutely nothing to do with any of those matters.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: It is a matter of public record that you met with representatives of Nathan Tinkler's companies six times from August 2010, is it not?

Mr ANDREW STONER: It is a public document at the Independent Commission Against Corruption. They published my diaries. There is nothing surprising about that. I would hasten to add that that those people met with quite a few Labor figures as well and those matters are currently being investigated before the ICAC. I do not think that it is appropriate that I comment on those matters.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: On 24 August 2010 you, Chris Hartcher and Mike Gallacher met with Nathan Tinkler's executives, did you not?

Mr ANDREW STONER: Those matters are on the public record and they have been investigated by the ICAC. The commission has made some statements in relation to me that I am in no way under any allegations of impropriety or being investigated in relation to those matters. You are just trawling over things that are already out there in the public.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: One of the ICAC exhibits to which you have drawn our attention is page 4001. That is a briefing note of the meeting that you, Chris Hartcher and Mike Gallacher had with Nathan Tinkler's executives on 24 August 2010?

Mr SCOT MacDONALD: Point of order: The rules governing budget estimates hearings state that wide latitude is to be allowed in questions about proposed expenditure, but this is supposed to be about the 2014-15 budget papers.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: He probably wants to answer it.

The Hon. MICK VEITCH: To the point of order: I agree with the Hon. Luke Foley: I have no doubt that the Deputy Premier wants to answer the question. Matters that are undertaken prior to becoming a Minister may well have a direct impact on what one does when one becomes a Minister; therefore, it is within the purview of this General Purpose Standing Committee.

Mr SCOT MacDONALD: Further to the point of order: If it is about prior expenditure, in the period being spoken about the Deputy Premier was not a Minister.

CHAIR: Order! There is no point of order. Wide latitude is allowed in questions at budget estimate hearings. The Minister has answered a number of these questions. If the member wishes to continue to ask the same questions and get the same answers he is within his right to do so.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I go back to the briefing note that is an exhibit at ICAC. The discussion document issued by Nathan Tinkler's executives for a meeting between you, Chris Hartcher, Mike Gallacher and Tinkler executives states: "Nathan Tinkler has a number of mining interests, including the largest shareholding in Aston Resources ASX-listed mining company, $1.2 billion, with mine holdings at Maules Creek. Maules Creek will be the largest single coalmine in New South Wales with a peak production forecast at 15 million tonnes per annum." You discussed the Maules Creek project with Tinkler's executives in August 2010, did you not?

Mr ANDREW STONER: The said meeting to which you refer took place when I was the shadow Minister for Ports. That was the topic of discussion. I have given sworn testimony to the ICAC in relation to these matters.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Have you?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I do not intend to prejudice the investigation—

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Are you telling the Committee that you have appeared at a private hearing?

Mr ANDREW STONER: —that is underway by the ICAC at the moment and neither do I think should you. This has absolutely nothing—

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Are you revealing that you gave evidence at a private hearing?

Mr ANDREW STONER: No, I am not. I told you—

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: A breach of the ICAC Act—

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Point of order: The member has asked a detailed question and the Minister has every right to answer that question without being constantly interrupted and spoken over by the member asking the question.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: He does not have the right to breach the confidentiality provisions of the ICAC Act.

CHAIR: Order!

Mr ANDREW STONER: What do you think you are trying to do?

CHAIR: Order!

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: I ask that when the Deputy Premier is asked a question he be afforded the courtesy of answering that question without having to shout over other Committee members.

CHAIR: Order! I remind all members to be courteous and not interject when questions are being asked and answers given. Minister, do you wish to respond to the question?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I do. I have provided evidence to the investigating body in relation to these matters. There is an investigation currently underway. During the course of that investigation the commissioner has made the point that there are no allegations or suggestions of impropriety on my part. All the evidence to which you refer—

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: There were none against Tim Owen when counsel gave his opening

CHAIR: Order!

Mr ANDREW STONER: —are public documents. The meeting to which the member refers, I will state again, took place in my role as the shadow Minister for Ports when I was in opposition. I was not a Minister of the Crown. I was in no position to give anyone any favours. If that is the point the member is trying to make, all he is doing is prejudicing a current investigation of the ICAC.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: In March 2011, the month that your party and the Liberal Party came to government, you had a private dinner with Chris Hartcher, Mike Gallacher and Nathan Tinkler's executives, did you not?

Mr ANDREW STONER: That was prior to the election and these again are matters on the public

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: The next week, two directors of Nathan Tinkler's companies and two of their spouses donated $20,000 to the National party and then Nathan Tinkler donated $50,000 to the National party. That is the case, is it not?

Mr SCOT MacDONALD: Point of order: My objection to this question is paragraph 4.11 of the Budget Estimates Manual 2014-2015—namely, the disclosure of information required by the question would be prejudicial to the privacy or the rights of the other persons, particularly parties in proceedings.

The Hon. STEVE WHAN: To the point of order: This question has been raised in other estimates hearings and has been allowed to proceed. Page 16 of the estimates manual states that wide latitude should be given to the nature of questions at budget estimates. It has also been ruled in the past, as the Hon. Mick Veitch referred to earlier, that it is reasonable for people to ask questions about periods before coming to government because they do influence decisions.

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Further to the point of order: The Deputy Premier is appearing here today in the capacity for which he has budgetary responsibility within the Executive Government. He is not appearing here today as the leader of a political party. Questions in relation to donations to his party are not matters about which he is appearing before this Committee—

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Maybe we should ask you, Mr Party Chair.

CHAIR: Order!

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: —nor are they matters to be examined in budget estimates. They are matters for the party officials themselves.

CHAIR: Mr Scot MacDonald was referring to estimates paragraph 4.11 in relation to the disclosure of information in relation to other persons in particular legal proceedings. I have sought advice in relation to that. If the matter relates to a matter before the courts then, yes, that is upheld. In relation to the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], there is greater latitude given. However, I remind all members that questions must be relevant to the Minister's portfolio as he currently serves as opposed to portfolio matters that he may have dealt with prior to being a Minister.

Mr ANDREW STONER: Can I answer the question, Madam Chair?

CHAIR: Certainly.

Mr ANDREW STONER: The Hon. Luke Foley would be aware that matters regarding donations are matters for the relevant political party—in this case, the National party. I have never accepted an illegal donation and I have always complied with the relevant rules. Political parties, including the Labor Party, I hasten to add, receive, disclose and process political donations—not individual candidates or members of Parliament. I note from the public records, which the Hon. Luke Foley has been trawling obviously, that Labor accepted $75,000 from a developer, Shepherds Bay Proprietary Limited, in 2010 less than a year after the ban on developer donations was introduced by the Hon. Nathan Rees in 2009. I note that Labor also accepted donations from, amongst others, the NSW Minerals Council and AGL Energy—and I could go on and on.

The Hon. STEVE WHAN: Are you are saying that they are banned donors?

Mr ANDREW STONER: All I am saying is that these matters are for the relevant political parties.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Deputy Premier, let us turn now to your period in office. Did you, following your meetings and dinners with Mr Tinkler's executives and the receipt of donations by your party from Mr Tinkler's executives, then participate in discussions inside the Government concerning the approval of Mr Tinkler and Mr Vaile's Maules Creek coal project?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I have already said that, in relation to the approval of any development application, exploration licence or mining licence, I have no direct involvement whatsoever.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Did you participate—

Mr ANDREW STONER: Well, I cannot participate—

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: in internal Government discussions?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I may have met—and I have told you that I would have to come back to you—with Aston Resources, and I think it is Whitehaven Coal now, in relation to that or other projects. I do not

know. I meet with thousands of people in their capacity as significant investors in the State of New South Wales. I have said I would check my diary and come back to you.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: This has been a matter of some public attention recently, Deputy Premier. Surely you would have done a search before you came here on what meetings you have had with Mr Tinkler's group of companies since you came to office. Deputy Premier, have you met with representatives of Whitehaven Coal and have you met with representatives of Aston Resources since you came to office?

Mr ANDREW STONER: Mr Foley, I told you I would have to check my diary records and come back to the Committee with the details of any such meetings. I have literally thousands of meetings with industry groups across the spectrum of the New South Wales economy, whether it is manufacturing, mining, tourism or education. I meet with many people—thousands of people—over the course of a year.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Yes, but only a handful of them are before ICAC, Deputy Premier. I suggest that you would recall your meetings with them since you came to office. You meet with Mr Mark Vaile, the Chairman of Whitehaven Coal, regularly, do you not? He offered to sponsor your aborted bid for Canberra, did he not?

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Point of order: The question is full of absolute rubbish. It has no relevance. It also contains argument. I ask that that stupid question be ruled out of order.

The Hon. STEVE WHAN: Says the chairman of the National party.

CHAIR: Order!

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: You are wrong there are too. You guys are asleep at the wheel.

CHAIR: Order! The question did contain argument.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I will withdraw it.

CHAIR: Does the Hon. Luke Foley have another question?

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Deputy Premier, will you give us an assurance today that there has been no correspondence from you or anyone in your ministerial office to anyone else in government or industry concerning the Maules Creek coal project since you became a Cabinet Minister? Will you give us that assurance?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I will give you the assurance that I will check my records and come back to this Committee.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: And if you find in your records correspondence from you or anyone in your office concerning the Maules Creek coal project, will you reveal that correspondence to this Committee when you come back to us?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I said I would advise the Committee if there had been any correspondence. I must make the point that in relation to significant developments and investments in New South Wales— whether that is, for example, another mining development, a proposed manufacturing plant or anything else— from time to time I will write to another Minister or a committee of the Cabinet. If it is to a committee of the Cabinet of course those documents are Cabinet in confidence. But as I said, and I stand by this, if I have written in relation to the Maules Creek mine—which, incidentally, I do not think is the subject of the investigations of ICAC—then I will advise the Committee.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Why did Nathan Tinkler text one of his executives in May 2011 that he had given up on Tim Owen and Barry O'Farrell—

The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: Point of order: Without even hearing the end of that question, the question starts with "Why would Nathan Tinkler text someone?". How can the Deputy Premier be asked to answer why another individual would be sending a particular text, and what would be in that text?

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: To the point of order: Madam Chair, to assist the Committee I will rephrase my question. Given that Nathan Tinkler texted one of his executives in May 2011 that he had given up on Tim Owen and Barry O'Farrell and "we'll drive through Stoner and Tim can read about it in the papers like his boss", is it the case that you were, and are, Nathan Tinkler's agent inside this Government?

Mr ANDREW STONER: Mr Foley, you will have to ask Nathan Tinkler that question—I cannot read Nathan Tinkler's mind. I do recall another piece of public evidence where Nathan Tinkler was hurling expletives at the National party and calling them useless because they would not do what he wanted. Why are you not talking about that piece?

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Deputy Premier, have you ever been on a bike ride with him?

Mr ANDREW STONER: This is bizarre. No. What does this have to do with my portfolio?

CHAIR: Order! I remind the Hon Luke Foley to try to keep his questions relevant to the portfolio.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Deputy Premier, did you participate in discussions that resulted in the Government removing third-party appeal rights for the approval of the Maules Creek coal project? Did you participate in discussions about the removal of those third-party appeal rights?

Mr ANDREW STONER: No, I did not.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Do you give that undertaking?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I just said it twice. How many times do you want me to say it?

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Will you check your records?

Mr ANDREW STONER: I do not need to.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: You will come back to us and release—

Mr ANDREW STONER: I already said that I would.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: any and all correspondence—

Mr ANDREW STONER: I did not say I would release any and all correspondence; I said I would advise the Committee whether I had written to anyone else in relation to the Maules Creek mining development.