AGL calls in auditors over donation claims

ENERGY giant AGL has called in its external auditors to investigate whether it committed any “errors or omissions” in its political donation disclosures in NSW while seeking approval for stage one of the Gloucester Gas Project.

AGL has called in its external auditors to investigate whether it committed any "errors or omissions" in its political donation disclosures in NSW while seeking approval for stage one of the Gloucester Gas Project.

AGL has called in its external auditors to investigate whether it committed any "errors or omissions" in its political donation disclosures in NSW while seeking approval for stage one of the Gloucester Gas Project.

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) called for an investigation by the NSW Department of Planning after it emerged AGL gave almost $100,000 in donations to the NSW Labor and Liberal parties between 2008 and the project's approval in 2011, only half of which were disclosed.

AGL’s then head of government affairs Sarah McNamara - now an adviser to Prime Minister Tony Abbott - declared on May 13, 2010, that the company had made four political donations over the ‘relevant’ two-year period totalling $48,250.

The funds were split $26,250 to Labor and $22,000 to the Liberals, who were then in opposition. 

However, the declaration omitted $11,000 donated for membership to the Liberal Party’s now discredited Millennium Forum on October 1, 2008. Between submitting its application for the Gloucester project to the Department of Planning and its approval by the Planning Assessment Commission on February 22, 2011, AGL donated a further $39,300. 

Of that, Labor received two donations of $13,750 and the bulk of the remainder went to the Liberals, including for several meals with then opposition leader Barry O’Farrell.

Details of the donations were compiled from public election funding records by Groundswell Gloucester.

“The disclosure of donations to political parties made by proponents is a requirement of any planning system that has integrity,” Sue Higginson, a principal solicitor at the EDO, told Fairfax Media.

She added the Independent Commission Against Corruption - now examining a series of donation issues - had said disclosure was essential for planning matters.

AGL initially dismissed the claims but today (Tuesday) called in its auditor Deloitte to investigate.

“If there are any errors or omissions found by Deloitte in relation to AGL’s public disclosures of NSW reportable political donations, AGL will advise the appropriate authorities,” a company spokeswoman told Fairfax Media.

AGL said it would not provide further comment on donations until the review is complete, possibly within a week.

However, earlier on Tuesday the company issued this statement through a spokeswoman: "the donations ... were all disclosed to the NSW Election Funding Authority by AGL and are publicly available, which is how the EDO is aware of them. 

"Donations to the Millennium Forum were paid to the NSW Liberal Party, however it is part of their federal fundraising and goes to their federal account and therefore is not subject to the NSW donation laws. When AGL disclosed the Millennium Forum amounts we were disclosing more than is required by legislation.”

Groundswell Gloucester has called on Minister Anthony Roberts to suspend AGL’s operations in the area while an enquiry is launched.

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