STEPHEN LONG. The Adani lobbyist and Labor insider who smoothed the way for the mega mine

Nov 23, 2017

Adani’s lobbyists resigned recently after a job well done.

Key points:

  • Lobbyists made 33 contacts with Queensland politicians or their staff for Adani
  • 60 per cent of meetings the Queensland Premier held with lobbyists were for Adani
  • Adani lobbyist played key role in Labor’s 2016 federal election campaign

Headed by Cameron Milner, a former Queensland ALP state secretary, the lobbying firm Next Level had helped Adani get pretty much everything it wanted — through an extraordinarily intense campaign.

Adani began using Next Level to provide lobbying services in Queensland in February 2015.

Alongside Mr Milner, the firm features David Moore, formerly chief of staff to the LNP premier Campbell Newman.

Unlike at the federal level, Queensland state law requires lobbyists to register all contact made with the Government on behalf of clients.

The ABC has analysed the Queensland register and it shows just how hard Mr Milner’s firm worked on its client’s behalf.

Between its appointment and resignation, Next Level made 33 lobbying contacts for Adani.

This was more than double the contact reported by any lobbyist on behalf of any other client.

Next Level met 24 times with the Queensland Labor Government to push Adani’s interests, eight times with the Opposition, and once with the mayor of Townsville.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was particularly willing to extend the welcome mat.

The Premier had 10 personal meetings with lobbyists all up. Six of those were with Adani’s lobbyists.

The effort was especially intense earlier this year as Adani brokered concessions on mining royalty payments from the State Government.

On five consecutive days at the end of May, as the deal was being hammered out, Adani’s lobbyists held meetings with Ms Palaszczuk’s chief of staff, David Barbagallo — a notorious ALP hard man.

The fruits of the lobbying effort are there for all to see.

A deferment of mining royalties under a secret deal with the Queensland Government — worth big money to Adani — despite Labor’s pledge at the 2015 election not to subsidise the Adani mine.

A declaration that the Adani project was “critical infrastructure” — a status never previously granted to a mining project — which exempts it from a raft of planning controls and potential legal objections.

Compulsory acquisition of land along a 388km corridor for the mine’s railway by the state’s coordinator-general, even before finance for the project is in place.

And, at least until recently, the vocal support of the Labor state Premier and continued backing of the state Opposition.

The fact that Adani had pretty much all the concessions it sought was one reason for the lobbying firm to bow out.

But a more compelling reason, perhaps, was the stench surrounding Mr Milner continuing to act for Adani while also playing a key role, albeit unpaid, in Labor’s Queensland re-election campaign.

The Premier had previously said she saw no problem with this, nor with Mr Milner appearing as a star turn at $5,500-a-head event with the Queensland Labor cabinet.

Adani also used Next Level to lobby members of Federal Parliament on Adani’s behalf, but how much contact Mr Milner and his staff had we do not know. The Commonwealth, unlike Queensland, does not require that lobbying contacts be logged on a register.

What is clear is that Mr Milner is familiar with the revolving door between politics and lobbying.

He spent 18 months as Bill Shorten’s chief of staff — helping hone the strategy that nearly carried Labor to victory at the 2016 election — moving directly from his role as Adani’s lobbyist to the Opposition Leader’s office, then back again.

The business of influence-peddling

He is but one of many who have leveraged their political experience into a career in the business of influence-peddling.

Think Martin Ferguson, a former long-standing resources minister who now chairs the advisory board of APPEA (Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association), which bills itself as “the voice of Australia’s oil and gas industry”.

Or Andrew Robb, who walked straight out of parliament, where he served as trade minister, into a lobbying role for a company run by a Chinese billionaire with close links to the Communist government.

Bruce Bilson, a former minister for small business, did not even bother leaving parliament before going on the payroll of the Franchise Council.

On the face of it, it seems to be a clear-cut conflict of interest for a current Member of Parliament, elected to serve the people, to be taking a salary from an industry lobby group.

Yet Australia’s highest law officer, Attorney-General George Brandis, recently told a Senate hearing that such “third party” payments to backbench MPs were both commonplace and acceptable.

The revolving door between politics and lobbying is a potential source of corruption in the mining approvals process, according to a recent report by Transparency International.

Not the kind of crookedness that Adani Enterprise is accused of in India, where, according to evidence obtained on warrant by the anti-corruption authority in the southern state of Karnataka, it engaged in systemic corruption, paying regular bribes to a large number of police and public officials to smooth the way for illegal exports of iron ore.

More the bread-and-butter process corruption that sees decisions made that did not deserve to be made on the merits.

What the lobbying could not do, however, was make Adani’s planned mega mine popular.

Large sample surveys by reputable pollsters suggest a majority of Australians oppose the project, and a vast majority believe it should not receive government subsidies, such as a proposed $1 billion loan from the Federal Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

But in a world where big money and influence-peddling hold sway, that may not be enough to stop Adani.

This article first appeared on the ABC Website on 23 November 2017 . Stephen Long is a senior ABC  journalist

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