A Queensland assistant minister has not declared hospitality at a proposed luxury resort site owned by a wind farm developer despite promoting the wind farm, defending its developers and later officiating at the resort’s opening.
Queensland Assistant Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs David Kempton received accommodation and a barbecue on the site of a proposed five-star lakeside outback lodge on remote far north Queensland cattle station Crystalbrook last year.
The five-star lodge is owned by the Port Bajool company, which boasts millionaire Port Douglas tourism pioneer John Morris and his business partner Jim Noli as directors and shareholders.
The company has a partnership with Ratch Australia, a Thai power operator to apply to build the $500 million Mount Emerald Wind Farm about 45 kilometres south-west of Cairns on the tablelands
Port Bajool has also been developing residential land near the proposed turbine site.
The wind farm application which involves building 63 turbines up to 90 metres tall with 50-metre wide blades on Mount Emerald however has infuriated locals who have expressed concern about noise and impacts on their health, the native habitat and their property values.
The project was called in by the Queensland government in May.
Mr Kempton, the Member for Cook, has publicly promoted the wind farm despite the site not being in his north Queensland electorate and has also officiated at Crystalbrook’s offical opening.
On Monday, Mr Kempton confirmed he had “enjoyed a barbecue” with the Morris family and stayed the night in their company at their private residence on Crystalbrook station in February last year.
But he said he undertook the visit by “driving his own vehicle” to the lodge which was at the time under construction and before it was taking paying guests.
“There was no cost for accommodation,” he said.
Mr Kempton also confirmed he later officiated at the opening of the resort in his capacity as the local member. The hospitality is not listed in his register of interests.
Mr Kempton denies receiving any benefit from the hospitality.
He said he went to Crystalbrook to inspect the property and “discuss issues such as tenure, access, agricultural development and potential for indigenous employment”.
“I have not received any benefit hospitality service or other from Mr Noli, Mr Morris, Port Bajool, Mount Emerald Wind Farms and Ratch Australia that requires disclosure or otherwise,” he said.
Queensland’s standing orders of the Legislative Assembly state members should declare any “sponsored travel or accommodation” received by the members or related person.
But sponsored travel or accommodation does not have to be declared if it is received in an “official capacity” say the orders.
Mr Morris confirmed Mr Kempton had stayed in the lake side accommodation that has since become the five-star lodge.
But he denied any suggest that having Mr Kempton stay at Crystalbrook was linked to the wind farm or was aimed at influencing any decisions about its future.
“For God’s sake no. He (Mr Kempton) is the member for that area and we weren’t even open at that point if that’s what your getting at,” said Mr Morris on Tuesday.
“I think he (Mr Kempton) was looking at what we were doing with a view to encourage other graziers that have been under the pump.”
Crystalbrook Lodge, which was advertised as opening around May 2013, offers an five-star luxury lodge experience on a 34,000-hectare cattle station with a spectacular infinity pool overlooking a picturesque freshwater lake about 200 kilometres west of Port Douglas.
Guests can fish in the lake on a special electric boat, go kayaking or bushwalking and enjoy outdoor dining on fresh local produce served in spectacular settings.
In January, Mr Kempton told ABC radio that he supported the Mount Emerald wind farm.
“I think we really do need to start thinking a bit more about nation building and the future,” he said.
“We can’t just keep reacting all the time to changes in the community”.
In June, Mr Kempton publicly spoke in support of Port Bajool’s property development operations after a claim was made that potential buyers of Port Bajool properties were asked to sign contracts promising not to complain about the wind farm.
“There’s no gag order. I reckon (opponents) are playing with that to try and make it look like (the developer) is something he isn’t,” he told the Cairns Post.
Mr Kempton’s current register published online by the Queensland government does not list him as receiving any sponsored hospitality or gifts.
Mr Kempton confirmed taking a trip in a helicopter operated by Jim Noli when he was on Crystalbrook.
“He flew me down over the site where they were going to do tree clearing,” he said.
Mr Kempton said his electorate was the size of Victoria and he travelled all over it sometimes sleeping in the swag.
“I spent a night at Crystalbrook prior to it being a resort at no cost to anybody. I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.
He said he supported the wind farm 100 per cent because “it was the biggest single infrastructure project in North Queensland in living memory” and he had no influence over the decision about it’s approval processes.