Environmentalists have raised concerns about how Pardoo Beef Corporation made large donations to the major political parties in WA while seeking a land clearing permit in the East Pilbara region.
- Pardoo Beef Corporation donated more than $180,000 to major parties during land clearing application
- PBC denies donations linked to application
- Environmental groups call for tighter regulations of political donations
Pardoo made donations to the Liberals, Nationals and to Labor in 2016 and 2017.
At the time, it was seeking approval to clear up to 450 hectares of land.
Martin Pritchard of Environs Kimberley said the land was feared to contain bilby habitat.
“It seems that donating to political parties, whatever their stripes, is something that these really wealthy people and companies do,” he said.
“Is that being done to gain some kind of influence? Or what is the reason for donating so much money to political parties?
“I guess the link here that we can see is that it’s led to large scale destruction of bilby habitat.”
PBC donates funds to major parties
From September 2016 through to March 2017, records show that Pardoo Beef Corporation (PBC) donated more than $180,000 to the Liberal, National and Labor parties, in portions of $500, up to $30,000.
Most of the money went to the Liberal and National parties, although a $20,000 donation went to the Labor Party in December 2016.
In December, approval had been given for the clearing of 400 hectares, reduced by 50 hectares from the original bid.
There was a condition that bilbies or mulgara that were found were to be relocated.
But then appeals were lodged by a private individual and by Environs Kimberley.
Martin Pritchard said the group was concerned about plants, the potential impacts on the Eighty-mile Beach Ramsar Wetland, and bilby habitat.
“We are talking about a threatened species that is listed under the Commonwealth Enviro Act as a vulnerable species and clearly, it’s heading towards extinction if we continue to destroy its habitat.”
Between the end of January and the beginning of March 2017, over $60,000 in donations were made in five instalments to the Liberals and Nationals.
After the Liberals and Nationals lost the election in March that year, PBC gave $3,000 to Labor (in June).
The company even provided gifts to the Minister for Transport, Planning and Lands, Rita Saffioti and Premier Mark McGowan, which were both declared.
Ms Saffioti was given a hard hat (as it was described in the Legislative Council on April 10, 2018).
Mr McGowan was given what was described (in his gift register) as a hard hat decorated by an Aboriginal artist, worth $150, and displayed in his office.
Jolene Elberth of the Australian Conservation Foundation said there was an issue with perception.
“When they were under the process of needing a decision made, they went on a spending spree and spent over $180,000 in a year.
“Corporations will often say things like, ‘Well, we’ve declared our donations and followed transparency procedures’ ,but at the end of the day, you have a corporation who can use their deep pockets.”
PBC denies donations linked to application
In a statement, Pardoo Beef Corporation said it “categorically denies any linkage between the clearing approvals and the donations”.
It said, “it has adhered to the regulatory body’s rigorous assessment processes that are addressed with appropriate governance for compliance and approvals”.
It also said it had satisfied the regulators that there were “no significant impacts likely to occur as a result of our development”.
Pardoo Beef Corporation was unhappy at what it considered to be slow progress in relation to responses being provided to the Appeals Convenor.
In a letter to DER on April 26, 2017, which has been obtained under FOI, PBC expressed concern that the department had provided its feedback to the Appeals Convener on April the 24th.
Pardoo Beef Corporation described this as an “unacceptable delay” and referred to a “corresponding loss” to the state in terms of the “economic contribution and job creation”.
PBC described the appeal as “vexatious”.
Pardoo Beef Corporation did get what it wanted, albeit many months after it had hoped.
Convenor rules against appeals
The Appeals Convenor dismissed the appeals but did say management of bilbies and mulgara should be strengthened.
The Department of Environmental Regulation was found to be justified in its decision to grant the clearing permit to Pardoo Beef Corporation.
PBC’s consultant had found no evidence of greater bilby activity in the application area.
Parks & Wildlife had said the bilby was nomadic, and “both the survey area and likely the adjacent area contains suitable habitat that may support bilby populations”.
The Environment Minister determined that the fauna management conditions be amended to require that pre-clearing fauna surveys extend beyond the “clearing envelope”.
Department denies that donations influence decisions
In a statement, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (as it’s been known since July 2017) said it “gives no consideration to (nor indeed is even aware of) matters such as donations to third parties in assessing a clearing permit application”.
“The department is impartial, and its decision making is without bias,” the statement said.
The statement said DER (as it was then) would not have given approval if “it considered the clearing would pose an unacceptable risk” to bilbies or mulgara.
Issue of political donations needs clearing up: ACF
Jolene Elberth of the Australian Conservation Foundation said she believed there was a general issue with political donations.
“We have a problem where political parties become dependent on their major donors and that’s because we have no expenditure caps. We don’t have them in WA and we don’t have them at the federal level.
“Expenditure caps are a really important reform to make sure that parties aren’t going to elections knowing that, as the data shows, those who spend the most are most likely to get elected, and therefore they become dependent on major donors to their parties, they don’t want to lose those sources of income.
In June 2020, the McGowan government introduced legislation to improve disclosure laws, bring in expenditure caps for campaigns, and ban foreign donations.
The legislation was not approved before the election and will now have to be reintroduced.