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AUSTRALIA: Miner's poll cash for MPs

by Amanda O'BrienThe Australian
May 19th, 2007

MINING company Precious Metals Australia donated thousands of dollars to the election campaigns of two West Australian politicians who helped write a doctored report that commercially benefited the company.

PMA managing director Roderick Smith, who has previously been exposed for amending the report, said yesterday PMA had donated $3000 to the election fund of disgraced former minister John Bowler just two months after the report was released.

He also spent $1650 to attend a fundraiser for the committee's chairman, Tony McRae, while the report was being prepared. Mr McRae was also sacked as a minister this year.

Mr Bowler and Mr McRae were members of a parliamentary committee examining the 2004 closure of a vanadium mine north of Perth owned by Swiss mining giant Xstrata. PMA lost substantial royalties from the closure.

Six months after the committee's report was released, Xstrata paid PMA a $17.5million out-of-court settlement.

All three men gave evidence yesterday to a privileges committee investigating whether Mr Bowler should be expelled from parliament for contempt after it was revealed by the Corruption and Crime Commission that he had leaked a copy of the committee's confidential draft report to lobbyist Julian Grill, who was employed by PMA and passed it on to Mr Smith within minutes.

Other committee members were unaware that Mr Smith's changes were later secretly incorporated into the final report.

Mr Smith said yesterday he had made both of his donations at the urging of Mr Grill, who was always "rattling the can". He said that he had not expected to receive any benefit from Mr Bowler or Mr McRae.

In his evidence, Mr McRae said he had only found out on the day of the fundraiser that Mr Smith was attending and would have preferred him not to do so.

He said there was a risk that it might cause apprehension about special lobbying.

In other evidence, it was revealed that Mr McRae wrote to Mr Grill two months after the report and said he would be contacting Mr Smith for a campaign contribution. Asked if it was proper to do this, Mr McRae said that suggested a link that was not in his mind.

The privileges committee said evidence before it showed the leaked draft report had passed from Mr Bowler to Mr Grill, who gave it to Mr Smith. His changes were written into the report and ended up back with Mr Bowler, who forwarded it to Mr McRae.

Mr McRae again testified yesterday that he did not remember seeing Mr Smith's changes in the report he had, even though they were track-marked with a tag naming Mr Smith.

Mr Smith said Mr Grill had been employed by PMA on a $10,000-a-month retainer for several months. A success fee of $250,000 was originally offered if the vanadium mine recommenced production. When that was not achieved a second success fee was negotiated, which Mr Smith said included a range of possible outcomes, including getting compensation.

That fee of $133,000 was paid to Mr Grill.

Both Mr Bowler and Mr McRae testified yesterday that they had been aware of a relationship between Mr Grill and PMA but had not realised it was commercial to such an extent.

Mr Smith said he did not discuss the inquiry with Mr McRae when he attended his fundraiser and did not recall speaking to Mr Bowler at the event, which he also attended.

He said no one had suggested to him that it might not be appropriate for him to attend the function when Mr McRae was chairing the committee preparing a report with which he was closely associated.

Mr Smith also denied that the committee's report assisted the company in getting the out-of-court settlement from Xstrata.

He said the litigation with Xstrata had been about the wording of a royalty agreement.

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