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3/2004 Lake Cowal 'Environmental Trust' evidences select NSW green groups corrupt deal with govt


Constructive refusal of peak green ngo to publicly release $6 million MOU on Lake Cowal cyanide mine suggests ignoble funding deal will pay them off in 2004.

Tom McLoughlin, Convener, Ecology Action Sydney


18th March 2004

The chronology of events since 1996 around:

- death of Milo Dunphy;

- Northparkes cyanide gold mine exposed on 60 Minutes (Sept 1995) tv programme ‘Dams of Death’ for causing massive bird kills and consequent community outrage;

- initial refusal by Carr govt later that year of similar Lake Cowal cyanide based gold mine;

- then approval of Timbara cyanide gold mine 2 days later;

- then backflip by both Carr govt and peak green ngo’s who engaged with Lake Cowal miner; 


suggests serious money politics influence on the green sector.


Earlier this year [2004] I wrote an email to all the executive members of the NSW Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) who are elected and appointed by their annual conference of the great majority of groups and associations in the green sector in NSW and manage the policy for staff of NCC accordingly.


In that email I urged that organization to publicly release a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) regarding $5 million (or $6 million depending on reports to be allocated to green projects at Lake Cowal. The suspicion is that substantial ‘administrative fees’ will be paid out of those millions to the signatory green groups on the MOU with then North Ltd the miner (now successor Barrick Gold) being Total Environment Centre, NCC, National Parks Association of NSW and lesser known SAFE. For instance the NCC usually charges a minimum 10% admin fee for any grants it handles which in this case could be as high as $600,000.


I wrote that email in January 2004 to NCC concerned at the alarming news on [a]Sydney indymedia feature at:

[and see also:    ] [These two links are possibly inoperative after two reconfigurations by those IMC organisers in the two years following]


evidencing that excavation was beginning on the Lake Cowal sensitive wetlands only in 2004 and as an elected member of the NCC in 1998 (until I resigned in 1999) I recalled this strange MOU being approved on grounds that I believe in hindsight were deceptive and misleading.


I remain worried that the green sector will be corrupted by dirty money from a cyanide miner, qualitatively the same as accepting grants for welfare programmes funded by a drug baron’s evil profits.


I got an email back from the executive officer of NCC who was not employed there in 1996-8 claiming no wrong doing and stating I was welcome to view the MOU at their office. I was assured the NCC


“The MOU was signed by several groups in June 1998 and has always been available, evidenced by media coverage it received at the time.  Furthermore, it has always been the policy of NCC to oppose the development of the Lake Cowal gold mine.”


I wrote back same day saying I prefer it be released to the public forthwith rather than attend their office which I think would be a decidedly uncomfortable experience especially the inevitable refusal to copy the document. I have had no answer to that request since January 27th 2004 which may be a constructive refusal to release the MOU to the public now where it counts.


I then searched my files from that period without luck regarding the MOU specifically but found some amazing news clippings from that time. Also that at the same time of the MOU being pushed through the NCC executive were interested in “MOVING TOWARDS PRIVATE FUNDING” to quote from their documentation, as they were particularly concerned about


government funding” which “comes with strings attached and has little room for growth”: per John Conner Executive Officer in “Suggestions for Building a Fundraising Base for the NCC NSW” 1998 with for example estimated $100,000 in its second year from “Major Gifts and Trusts & Foundations”.


Another initiative at this time to address financial problems was manifested in “Ecofriends Project 1998 BUSINESS PLAN Draft 16th march 1998” with an estimated  return of $133,000 per year. So NCC were clearly motivated to find new sources of funds.


It was also at this time a flurry of policy documents were created perhaps in anticipation of the need for a paper defense for NCC against any criticism over going down the private funding path with “Guidelines for Private Sector Relations” July 1998, and “Executive responsibilities” 6th May 1998 including this gem:


 The executive as a whole and as individual members must accurately reflect NCC policy ….not publicly directly criticize those policies.”


I started digging into the background a bit more and found this general overview in the NPA Journal regarding the dubious MOU in:


Mining - Negotiating the pitfalls


“At Lake Cowal, approval for North's deep open-cut gold mine intruding into a section of the lake came after a second Commission of Inquiry was conducted to evaluate a revised proposal with lesser cyanide levels; power lines relocated away from bird flight paths; and other modifications. The initial development application was rejected as unacceptable by Premier Carr in a decision announced during the 1996 Brisbane Ramsar Convention meeting, fulfilling a promise to Milo Dunphy shortly before his death (see also NPJ August 1999).


“In this, as in so many other ventures, the influential drivers for mine approval were the potential profits for the company itself and those who wanted to boost a local economy in decline. However, lateral thinkers in the company, the unions and the environment movement proposed exploring the possibility for common ground should the mine get the go-ahead.


“This led to the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (NPA is one of the signatories) to establish an Environmental Trust, aimed at improving conservation management and protection of significant wetland values. This move is probably a first, reflecting a generational change of approach from the mining industry, and could serve as a pilot.


While no compensation for loss of wetland integrity, it nevertheless is intended to ensure some of the mining profits contribute to longterm environmental benefits alongside the economic ones. These include protection of important remaining wetland values, native vegetation and associated natural and Aboriginal heritage values around Lake Cowal; and potentially to help offset the threats of salinity, due to past clearing and changed water regimes associated with irrigation and dryland farming.


“Many will be watching to see whether the hoped-for outcomes will be achieved over time as people, and possibly even mine ownership, changes.”


Anne Reeves NPA Journal , October 1999


The prediction of ownership change was accurate with new owner Canadian multinational Barrick Gold and the official NPA journal report states in its August 1999 issue:


Lake Cowal mine Trust

“North’s Lake Cowal gold mine project, near Parkes, was quietly given assent in March 1999 by the Carr Government (in the lead-up to the State election), in line with the recommendations of the second Commission of Inquiry. This came as no surprise to most, with only a few voices, including NPA’s, challenging the acceptability of the venture and its legacy - a huge deep hole filled with contaminated water intruding forever into an outstanding freshwater wetland.

“Establishment of the Lake Cowal Environmental Trust by signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (Total Environment Centre, Nature Conservation Council, Save Animals From Extinction and NPA, along with Norths) is now being actively pursued; the aim is to have the Trust in place by October 1999.

“Anne Clements & Associates are developing a strategic framework for protection and enhancement of the important natural values.

“High priorities are to mitigate encroaching salinity, which seriously threatens the long-term viability of the wetland system; and to ensure protection of key sites for nature conservation. The brief also includes establishing a sound geographical information system data base, and initiating constructive dialogue with others having a key interest in the area, such as Aboriginal people, landowners, ecologists and naturalists.

Lake Cowal lies within Wiradjuri land, whose representative at the Inquiry advised that native title issues would need to be addressed. In response to correspondence, Anne Reeves, as NPA’s representative on the MOU initiative, has commenced discussion with representatives of the Wiradjuri Council of Elders, to look for ways which maximise the outcomes for nature conservation while meeting Wiradjuri concerns for their traditional lands.

“Anne Reeves Vice President”

Some profound questions arise:

If the NPA and presumably fellow signatories were so obviously against the project will they, NCC, TEC and SAFE accept lucrative “administrative” funds from the profits of the mine under the MOU with the miner?

Why was this MOU that was cutting them in on the action agreed to in 1998 before all approvals and attempts to block the mine had been exhausted?

Was it insurance for the environment or simply a sell out?

What would Milo Dunphy RIP a personal friend of Anne Reeves, and this writer, have thought of this dealing with the enemy?

Some suggested answers to these questions appear from the news coverage and correspondence  from 1996 onwards starting from Senator Chamarette's 5 page letter to a greenie  of 3rd January and the front page story of the veto in the SMH 8th April 1996.


- Jeff Angel April 10 1996 SMH under headline “caution comes first” applauds the Carr veto referring to high environmental values of various national and international listings, bird species and inter alia legal obligations of Ecologically Sustainable Development in NSW.


- Premier Carr in a letter to this writer 10th April 1996, original signature and all,  refers to similar environmental values in a staunch confirmation of his decision with in hindsight the ironic words “I thank you for your support over the last few days for the Government’s decision.” These were the heady hopeful early days of the Carr govt. It was all downhill from there (as per Margo Kingston traverse attached below). On Meet the Press 14/4/96 Carr said “I’ve been an environmental minister and I know that a commission of inquiry is an important source of information and advice, but its only one source” as quoted in “Premier resolute on wetlands decision” p4 15/4/96.


- There was redneck outrage at stymied investment too including a Daily Telegraph editorial 10th of April 1996 railing against Carr’s “obsession with the environment”. How times change: refer Margo Kingston traverse at the end of this article. The government reacted by approving another cyanide gold mine at Timbarra 2 days after the veto on 9th April 1996. (This disastrous mine at Timbarra was finally thwarted by green groups and Indigenous protest after massive damage to perched wetlands 7 long hard years later.)


- By late May 1996 North shifted ground with an altered mine plan (Australian p23, 31/5/96, SMH p25) and added some spice with talk of court action against the Carr  govt (Australian p37, 5/6/96). The real pressure though came on August 1st with The Land reporting backing of the AWU for Norths and the Australian 2/10/96 p8 that the NSW Branch would dis-affiliate over the issue. By the very next day Carr was stepping back and ready to reconsider p3, 3/10/96. He needed a way out with a trusted green friend to broker a deal. By Nov 1996 The Fin p39 was running the headline “Premier may reverse mine decision” and similarly “North sees hope for Lake Cowal” Daily Tele 3/10/96.


- Jeff Angel alone is mentioned (now sole Director of Total Environment Centre after death of Dunphy in a front page SMH story ‘Peace deal in the offing for $1.2 bn Lake Cowal goldmine’ 27/5/97.


- However the quite admirable Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph reports the real story 13 days later in “$6m for greens in mine deal”. Still fairly newly elected “Green MP Ian Cohen, who has campaigned against the mine on the basis it may leach cyanide from waste ponds into wetlands, was outraged at the deal, as were the local environment groups.”


The extract from the Telegraph article reads




‘Provided that construction of the Cowal Gold Mine is commenced, North agrees to make the following donations:


(a) $100,000 per year during the construction period and the production life of the mine;


(b) up to $100,000 per year during the production life of the mine to match dollar for dollar monies that are donated to the Trust from other sources.'


By March 1999 the deal was done with the second commission of inquiry rubber stamp to send the mine through the Carr green light (‘Rush to OK mine’ Sun Herald March 7th, 1999 p19). No fuss from the Sydney based peak green groups.



Addendum: just like the twist in the  old classic Lord Jim the ship failed to sink with the slump in the gold price around 1999 causing a protracted delay in the project, the re-grouping of opposition to the Lake Cowal cyanide mine, a Bill from the NSW Greens to ban cyanide mining and the construction of the mine only in late 2003, early 2004. Will the green ngo signatories still accept the dirty money from the mine profits.  Let’s hear from Executive Director Jeff Angel who was the architect of the MOU as the ‘lateral thinker’ in all this deal making with financial incentives. Let’s have a copy of the MOU in the public domain.


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