Ex-union boss tells judge no debt existed

·3-min read

A former Labor politician denies spinning a story to financially benefit an ex-union boss who says there was no deal for him to financially benefit from a lucrative coal exploration mining licence.

Barrister Ramesh Rajalingam in his NSW Supreme Court opening address on behalf of Ian Macdonald said his client showed no preferential treatment in awarding the contract.

"But for any improper motive or purpose, Mr Macdonald would not have gone ahead," Mr Rajalingam said at the judge-alone retrial on Thursday.

The then state mineral resources minister granted a coal exploration licence in NSW's Hunter Valley in 2008 to Doyles Creek Mining which was chaired at the time by John Maitland.

Macdonald, 73, who has pleaded not guilty to misconduct in public office, is accused of favouring the interests of the company by directly allocating the licence without inviting expressions of interests or competitive tender.

Maitland, 76, has pleaded not guilty to being an accessory before the fact, accused of encouraging or assisting the minister's alleged misconduct.

Prosecutor Philip Hogan said bypassing due process cost the state significant financial contributions from other interested companies.

The Department of Primary Industries estimated a loss to NSW "in a range of $50 to $100 million".

The crown case is that Macdonald worked with the former Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary to inflate the significance of an "underground training mine" and downplay the large commercial interests of the site.

The strategy also involved bolstering the significance of a skills and training shortage in the mining industry, despite this gap easing, "especially in the Hunter Valley region," Mr Hogan said.

Mr Rajalingam denied the pair worked together to "spin" a story about the public benefit of the potential mine.

The barrister asked Justice Hament Dhanji to consider the way in which politics plays out, the advice Macdonald received and the various options available to him.

"And the extent to which the concept of an underground training mine was the driving force of Mr Macdonald's decision," he said.

Mr Rajalingam submitted a difficult issue for the judge was determining whether Macdonald's conduct "requires criminal punishment" if the Crown's case is taken in its most favourable version.

Maitland representing himself flatly disputed the allegations.

"There was no relationship, there was no debt, and there was no need for Mr Macdonald to repay me for anything," he said in his opening address.

"The whole process of what we were doing was legitimate and something that was going to benefit the state."

And he refuted the training mine being "minuscule" in relation to the entire project.

Macdonald in 2006 had a meeting with key Labor figures including now-Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and former NSW leader Luke Foley. Their evidence from the first trial was tendered on Thursday.

Mr Foley testified in 2017 that Macdonald resisted suggestions he retire in 2006 because he wanted to go to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and had other financial obligations.

But Macdonald agreed to leave parliament two years into the eight-year term after he was granted pre-selection with the support from the CFMEU's mining division, the Crown says.

Maitland denied the ALP politician owed him for this alleged political debt, saying the CFMEU's support was relatively unimportant compared to others.

Both men dispute the characterisation of their relationship, with Maitland saying it was not "a close friendship".

However, Mr Foley told the court in 2017 that he had observed "over a long period from probably the early 1990s that they enjoyed a close and friendly relationship".

Only about 10 witnesses are expected to be called over an estimated three-week retrial after a large amount of evidence from the first trial was tendered.