Beleaguered Forests Minister, Rory McEwen, today faced further controversy over decisions relating to key forestry company, Auspine, which he had admitted was a major donor to his election campaign.
Liberal Member of the Legislative Council, Rob Lucas, said today that previously confidential documents now released under Freedom of Information (FoI) revealed that Mr McEwen was the key person responsible for appointing the wife of a senior Auspine executive to the Board of Forestry SA.
In a 2003 letter of acceptance to Mr McEwen, Diana Lloyd (wife of Auspine’s General Manager of Resources) refers to Mr McEwen’s offer made by telephone call and also refers to how perceptions of conflict of interest would be handled.
Other documents released under FoI reveal a number of letters and meetings between Mr McEwen and Mr Lloyd on a number of policy issues which were of critical commercial interest to Auspine and also related to the role of Forestry SA. Two important examples were Government plans to change water allocation policy in the South-East and Government plans to change the role of Forestry SA and establish a forest policy unit in the Primary Industries Department.
This latest controversy comes after a long list of previous controversies involving Mr McEwen on related issues, including:
• Mr McEwen was finally forced by media pressure to name secret donors to his 2006 election campaign, which included Auspine;
• Mr McEwen lobbied the Forestry SA Board, which he was responsible for, for special help for Auspine;
• Mr McEwen’s Family Trust, of which he was a shareholder and manager, sold pine trees to Auspine.
Mr Lucas said that Mr McEwen must now answer a number of questions:
• When Cabinet considered Ms Lloyd’s appointment to the Forestry SA Board, did he advise Mr Rann and Cabinet that she was married to a senior executive of a company which was a major donor to his election campaign?
• Did Mr McEwen consult forestry companies, other than Auspine, about his proposal to change the role of Forestry SA?
• When Cabinet considered policies such as South-East water allocation plans – which were of critical importance to Auspine – did Mr McEwen participate in those discussions, and if he did participate, did he advise Mr Rann and Cabinet that Auspine was a donor to his campaign and of his Family Trust dealings with Auspine?
“This latest controversy from a bumbling Minister, who has lurched from crisis to crisis this year, at the very least raises serious questions about Mr McEwen’s political judgment,” Mr Lucas said.
“It is now time for Mr Rann to have the courage to sack Mr McEwen as Minister in his Cabinet. If Mr Rann again fails to act, then the already loud rumbles about Mr McEwen in the Labor Caucus will grow even stronger.”
It is important to note that this release makes no direct criticism of Ms Lloyd as she may well not have been aware of the extent of Mr McEwen’s relationship with Auspine, but rather directs criticism at Mr McEwen as Minister in Mr Rann’s Government.