MANILDRA has again been caught up in the controversy over political donations.
Several years ago Manildra was closely linked to former Prime Minister John Howard in a campaign questioning ethanol’s safety and viability as a fuel.
Now Manildra is at the centre of a new political storm, following revelations the company made huge donations to the ALP in 2007-08.
The Manildra Group, which has an application for a $400 million expansion of its Bomaderry plant awaiting approval by the State Government, donated $331,000 to the Labor Party during the financial year, according to political returns released this week.
The political furore caused by the donations has already led to the Greens calling for NSW Premier Nathan Rees to dump plans to impose a 10 per cent ethanol mandate throughout the state by 2011.
Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said the mandated use of ethanol, which will see E10 replace unleaded fuel in bowsers throughout NSW over coming years, “could well blow up into another corporate scandal”.
She said details of the donations were feeding cynicism within the community.
“We don’t know what deals are done behind closed doors, but it makes the public very cynical when they see a company that benefits from government decisions making a big donation to the governing political party,” Ms Rhiannon said.
She said details of the donations would again have people questioning why more action was not being taken against Manildra over repeated breaches of its EPA operating licence.
Manildra has been fined three times for emitting foul odours from its Bomaderry plant.
The most recent penalty was handed down in November 2006, when the company was fined $125,000 plus EPA costs of $235,000, and in a NSW first Manildra was also ordered to pay for an independent environmental audit expected to cost $400,000.
Another Greens MP, Ian Cohen, said there were “something like 1900 breaches by Manildra of its EPA licence in recent years”.
“There’s been quite a few breaches, and they don’t have a particularly good track record,” Mr Cohen added.
Yet plans to expand the plant are expected to be approved within coming weeks, with Mr Cohen saying the process created questions about access to power and decision-making processes in NSW.
“This highlights why we need a ban on political donations,” he said.
Manildra representatives were not available to comment yesterday.