Conservatives target Greenpeace

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In October 2004 Greenpeace Australia released an internal Australian government document revealing that the Australian government, headed by conservative Prime Minister John Howard, had promised a foundering Queensland shale oil project financial assistance but only on condition that it sue the Greenpeace.

Greenpeace had campaigned strongly against the shale oil project, developed by Southern Pacific Petroleum (SPP), on the grounds that it was a major new contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a May 2003 e-mail by the Manager of Department of Industry, Technology and Resources Refining & Fuels Section, Marie Taylor, wrote to the Department's Deputy Secretary, John Ryan, and the Head of its Resources Division, John Hartwell, setting out her understanding of a Howard government Cabinet decision offering financial support to Southern Pacific Petroleum.

"In addition, the Government's decision to put this arrangement in place was made subject to SPP taking legal action against Greenpeace and with the understanding that the viability and environmental impacts of the project would be made clear within this 12 month window", the e-mail stated. (The 12 month 'window' referred to is the duration of an export subsidy agreement). Downland a pdf copy of the memo here

The e-mail was obtained by Greenpeace Australia under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens to access internal government documents subject to meeting certain conditions.

SPP never proceeded with the legal action and the project is currently in the process of being shut down after the owners decided it wasn't viable.

Interviewed on ABC Radio, the Minister for Industry, Technology and Resources Ian Macfarlane, distanced himself from the content of the email message. "Well the internal email between the Department bureaucrats has nothing to do with me or with the Government. The Government made a decision. The decision was to assist Greenpeace. The contract was issued. There was no clause," he said.

Macfarlane claimed that because there was no requirement written into the contract there was no agreement. Asked if there was a verbal agreement Macfarlane sidestepped the issue referring back to the written contract. "Our contracts are done in writing. Contracts between Government and business operators in Australia are done in writing. The contract has no such clause," he said. [1]

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