The Morrison government’s decision to award a company with reportedly no energy industry experience up to $4 million in funding to undertake a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland has been referred to the federal Auditor General by shadow energy minister Mark Butler.
Butler has asked the Auditor General to investigate the Morrison government’s actions around the funding for the Collinsville coal plant study, including the government’s announcement that Shine Energy would receive the funding under the $10 million Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure program before it had even lodged an application.
“… It appears a $4 million expenditure decision regarding the Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure program was made at least two full days before the recipient of the grant was asked to apply for an already announced grant,” Butler wrote to the Auditor General.
“I ask that you review the integrity of the Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure program, in particular with reference to the grant to Shine Energy.”
The Auditor General has yet to indicate whether it will accept the request to audit the funding decision.
Butler questioned whether there was ever a serious intention within the Morrison government to make a more substantial commitment to funding a new coal-fired power station, or whether the funding was simply a pre-election promise used to win votes in Queensland.
“This latest revelation further exposes the fact that the government’s support for Shine Energy’s new coal project has always been a hoax to buy votes and has nothing to do with securing jobs or affordable and reliable power in North Queensland,” Butler said in a statement.
“Angus Taylor needs to spend less time wasting taxpayers money to hoodwink the people of North Queensland with coal-fired boondoggles and accept Labor’s call for a bipartisan energy policy that will deliver real jobs and investment to Queensland and the rest of the country,” Butler said in a statement.
As reported by the Guardian, the Morrison government asked Shine Energy to apply for up to $4 million of funding to undertake the Collinsville power station feasibility study, two days after it had already been announced as the successful recipient.
The Morrison government has proposed to fund the feasibility study under the $10 million Supporting Reliable Energy Infrastructure program, created under the 2019 federal budget.
The program also contributed $2 million for a pre-feasibility study into a 1.5GW pumped-hydro energy storage project, to be included in the development of the Urannah Water Scheme. The Urannah Renewable Energy Hub project has subsequently been awarded ‘coordinated project’ status by the Queensland government, to fast-track the planning assessment process.
Shine Energy is led by a number of Aboriginal traditional owners from the Birri and Widi of the Birri Gubba Nation, but the company has no prior experience in the development or operation of power station infrastructure.
Company records show that Shine Energy was formally registered as a company in 2016 and a number of company directors have close political ties, including with the Queensland Liberal National Party and the Katter’s Australia Party.
After announcing that Shine Energy would receive up to $4 million in grant funding, the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources developed a set of guidelines that would then be used to determine whether funding would actually be dispersed to Shine Energy.
Repeated requests to access the guidelines, and the “phase one findings” of the feasibility study that have already been delivered to the Morrison government, have been refused.
The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources has declined freedom of information requests lodged by RenewEconomy on the grounds that the findings were cabinet-in-confidence.