Fairfax’s SMH journalists have been amongst the few to probe the NSW O’Farrell’s government backing of James Packer’s plan for a new hotel casino in Sydney. Reporter Sean Nicholls broke a story about how the government had changed the rules for “unsolicited proposals” in a way that made it easier for Packer to avoid a competitive tender. So I was shocked when I opened the SMH on Saturday and found a plug for a story by Packer pitching his casino plan labelled as an ‘exclusive’ and ‘news’. There were several independent reports inside the paper, but online, Packer’s free promo was number three while other pieces were buried further down the page.
I am not suggesting that SMH should refuse to publish an opinion piece by Packer but this incident which followed Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review’s pushing of the plan through exclusives and a recent AFR business dinner at which Packer was the keynote speaker.
Concerned about the possible threat to independence of reporting, I wrote another piece for New Matilda:
Packer’s PR Coup
This week, New Matilda continued our series on Packer’s proposal for a hotel with casino at Barangaroo South on the edge of Sydney Harbour. Lawrence Bull asked two economists what they thought of James Packer’s claim that his casino would deliver $400 million to NSW and they raised lots of questions:
Are casino benefits wobbly?
A big issue in the NSW state election in 2011 was the Part 3A planning law which handed development consent for many major projects over to the Minister for Planning backed up by selected panels of experts. Councils and communities felt betrayed by Labor and hoped for something better from the Liberals, who promised to return rights to the community. Now eighteen months later, those same communities and Councils are fighting proposals put forward in an O’Farrell government Green Paper that look even worse.
Here’s my summary of the issue in New Matilda.
Big Plans for Development in NSW
No Coal Seam Gas Mining In Sydney spokesperson Jactinta Green applied for documents under Freedom of Information laws ( called the Government Information (Public Access) Act) relating to the NSW drilling license approval process for coal seam gas, .
The documents she obtained showed that the NSW Department of Primary Industries was “uncertain” about environmental impacts of coal seam gas drilling in St Peters when it approved an application by Macquarie Energy, now a subsidiary of Australian multinational Dart Energy.
The drilling licence approval process relied on a department officer rating risks to the community and environment as high, medium, low or uncertain. These ratings depended on the company’s own assessment without any on site investigation.
According to the department’s St Peter approval document, dated March 2010, the drilling operation could intersect with the Botany aquifer which lies under the site. The department officer accepted the company’s claim that the drill will be “solid cased” but was “uncertain” about whether the environment could withstand the impacts, whether they could be reversed or whether the drilling complies with water standards.
Although no further studies were recommended, the officer found impacts could be “fully” mitigated.
No wonder the community is alarmed !
You can read the full story on New Matilda here.
( I have previously written ( with Nicole Gooch) about Dart Energy’s drilling operations here and here.)