Two Brisbane-based electric vehicle fast-charger companies closely linked to coal baron Trevor St Baker – Tritium and Evie Networks – have made almost $40,000 worth of political donations to the Queensland Liberal-National Party, but none to date to the Labor Party, in the lead up to the state election in October.
St Baker is chairman and director of both Tritium and Fast Cities Australia (which trades as Evie Networks), and has been a long-time financial backer of the Liberal-National Parties, although he has also made some smaller donations to the Labor Party.
He now appears to be using the two electric vehicle charging companies to channel support to the Queensland LNP ahead of the state election, despite their lack of any visible EV policy. The Tritium board also features Trevor St Baker’s son, Stephen, and long-time coal business partner Brian Flannery.
Tritium made a $19,800 donation to the Queensland LNP on April 3, with Evie Networks making an equivalent donation in February, ahead of the October Queensland state election, when the Palaszcuk Labor government will face a tough re-election contest.
The $39,600 in donations were publicly disclosed by the Queensland LNP via the Queensland Electoral Commission.
Neither Tritium nor Evie Networks have made donations to other parties, including no donations to the sitting Palaszczuk Labor government.
On the surface, it is a curious donation from the electric vehicle charging companies, as the Liberal-National Parties at both a Queensland state level and at a federal level, have been antagonistic towards the electric vehicle industry.
A spokesperson for Evie Networks said that the donations related to the attendance of a business lunch with federal National party leader and deputy prime minister Michael McCormack.
“The amount recorded represented the attendance fee for several Evie Networks staff and invited guests to attend a Queensland LNP business luncheon with The Hon Michael McCormack MP in his role as Deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development,” the Evie Networks spokesperson told RenewEconomy.
“This was a valuable opportunity for Evie Networks to speak directly to Minister McCormack and advocate the public health and environmental benefits of: federal government EV transition targets together with commitments to transition government fleets to EV’s; and the need for appropriate energy tariffs to support the expansion of ARENA supported renewables-powered publicly available fast-charging infrastructure.”
“It is standard commercial practice for Evie Networks to participate in such activities where they provide an avenue for us to engage with the relevant representatives of the federal government of the day to advocate for EV’s in Australia.”
“These decisions are made at a management level within Evie Networks,” the spokesperson added.
Tritium has emerged as a leading developer of fast-charging systems, and has gained a significant foothold in both the Australian EV market, as well as fast growing markets in North America and Europe. Evie Networks is leading a $50 million deployment a fast charging network across Australia, using the charging systems developed by Tritium, which received a $15 million grant from the federal government via ARENA.
The Queensland LNP does not yet appear to even have a dedicated electric vehicle policy, with the only mention of electric vehicles on the party’s website being a reference to the National Electric Vehicle Strategy, announced by the Morrison government more than a year ago, but which has yet to be delivered.
Instead, the party has a plan to encourage ongoing reliance on fossil fuelled vehicles by cutting the cost of petrol for Queenslanders.
In the lead up to the 2019 federal election, the Liberal-National Coalition attacked electric vehicles, with federal energy minister Angus Taylor labelling the installation charging stations, like those manufactured by Tritium, as a “housing tax.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that electric vehicles would “end the weekend” and Liberal minister Michaelia Cash said that they would ‘save tradies’ utes’ from pro-electric vehicle policies.
Federal Queensland LNP member George Christensen also once declared the Palaszczuk government’s $3 million Electric Super Highway, which uses Tritium charging stations, as an expensive failure.
While the donations may be perplexing, in the context of the St Baker family’s heavy involvement both Tritium and Evie Networks, a family whose business interests also heavily aligned with the fossil fuel industry, it makes more sense.
St Baker has used his wealth to financially support the Liberal and National parties, after unsuccessfully standing as a National Party candidate for the electorate of Dickson at the 1993 federal election.
Over the last 12 months, other entities linked to Trevor St Baker, including the “St Baker Energy Innovation Trust”, have added $56,800 to the finances of the Queensland LNP, with $12,870 provided to the Queensland Labor party.
In addition to support to the state chapters of political parties, Trevor St Baker made $34,000 in donations to the federal Liberal and National parties in 2018-19, in the lead up to the 2019 federal election, along with a $40,450 in donations to the Federal Labor party.
St Baker’s business interests include the Vales Point power station which is set to receive as much as $11 million of taxpayer funding to cover the costs of repairs and upgrades at the ageing power station.
In 2015, a consortium led by Trevor St Baker and Brian Flannery purchased the Vales Point power station from the NSW government for just $1 million. Within a few years, with surging wholesale electricity prices, the power station has been valued in excess of $700 million.
St Baker also benefitted from the recent sale of electricity retailer ERM Power to oil and gas giant Shell, whose stake in the deal amounted to around $170 million.
Tritium has been contacted for comment.
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