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April 2001...Ian Kortlang, Shell's PR operative on Woodside bid, the treacherous Australian?

Shell's PR operative in Canberra - Mr Ian Kortlang: The Treacherous Australian?

Background to the following interview:

Earlier this year The Media supplement in The Australian daily newspaper featured a report on Mr Ian Kortlang until recently one third of the triumvirate in a powerful (and expensive) public relations firm called Gavin Andersen Kortlang.

Mr Kortlang has since parted ways with his partners and they quickly changed the name and structure of the business on his departure.

In that Australian feature it was reported that Mr Kortlang worked in the mid 1990's for Rosemount Wines - the home grown business success story, exporting its product to the world. Rosemount have vineyards at Denman in the Upper Hunter, NSW. Mr Kortlang's task involved advising on how to block a multinational coal miner, Bengalla, from moving in and impacting on the wine grower's vineyards. Issues related to dust generation, water contamination, degradation of prime agricultural land etc. In the first phase of that planning conflict Rosemount and Mr Kortlang were successful in thwarting approval of the Bengalla mine.

Mr Kortlang's task was complete and his formal contract, though probably not his ongoing legal (fiduciary) duty to Rosemount, ended. But Mr Kortlang's involvement in the planning conflict was to continue, unknown to Rosemount.

Again as reported in The Australian, without disclosure to Rosemount, Mr Kortlang accepted a retainer to advise Bengalla on how to try again for planning approval. This time Mr Kortlang also achieved success but this time for Bengalla against the interests of Rosemount.

With this background Friends of the Earth, Sydney (FoE) interviewed a representative of Rosemount Wines ("Paul" not his real name) :

Interview follows:

FoE: Thanks for calling back. You probably got the gist of what its about from my message. It's about Ian Kortlang and his role in the Bengalla mine project. It was in the press earlier this year in the Fin Review I think. We're interested because he's working for the multinational Shell - in the takeover bid for Woodside. You've probably seen it all through the financial press. To put it bluntly, I mean to put it very bluntly, we think Kortlang is an intellectual slut. I mean its on the public record that he worked for you and then worked for Bengalla.

Paul: Yeah, without telling us. It was in Media in the Australian.

FoE: That's right, in The Media. Of course.

Paul: When he worked for us we were successful in stopping the mine - in the first phase. Then [a politician] put pressure on him to drop it because [s/he] didn't want the seat to become marginal. That's not for public information. In the second phase he started working for Bengalla. It was like working for the allies and then the other side. Or you working on a campaign for Friends of the Earth and then changing over to your opponent.

FoE: His defence, in that article in the Australian , is that he finished the work with you and didn't take anything to the next job with Bengalla?

Paul: Don't get me wrong. It wouldn't have mattered if he'd worked on a Bengalla mine in Victoria or South Australia or anywhere else. But he was working on the same proposal. A lawyer can't do that. It's like working for the defence then the prosecution. You know how the other person thinks.

FoE: And what their resources are?

Paul: Yeah. How they think. What they're prepared to pay.

FoE: It seems to me that the legal duty - its called fiduciary duty if memory serves - probably continues even after the actual contract with Rosemount finished. But there's not much to be gained getting all tangled in a legal battle.

Paul: This is a big American company owned by the Brits now. They've planned it all out. The money they will make on the mine for the next 20 to 30 years is huge. The money they make is out of our realm.

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