Conflict of interest rules Mary O'Kane out of Santos Narrabri coal seam gas review

CONFLICT: Mary O'Kane said presiding over any CSG project was never on the table.
CONFLICT: Mary O'Kane said presiding over any CSG project was never on the table.

THE chair of the state’s Independent Planning Commission will not take part in the review of any coal seam gas-related developments, including Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project, due to a conflict of interest.

Mary O’Kane, who previous served as the state’s chief scientist and engineer, confirmed the news to The Leader and said she was extremely conscious of upholding the integrity of the IPC.

The news comes as a complaint was made to the NSW Ombudsman, asking it to investigate Dr O’Kane’s potential conflict of interest, due to a $25 million donation she was involved in securing from Santos to Adelaide University in 2001, when she was the university’s Vice Chancellor.

However, Dr O’Kane said her decision had nothing to do with the complaint and that there was never any chance of her presiding over any coal seam gas projects, as she made clear in the negotiations with Planning Minister Anthony Roberts when she was recruited in October.

“I feel very strongly about conflict of interest and I’ve always been really careful about it,” Dr O’Kane told The Leader.

“Having a conflict of interest and being in charge of a particular case is morally wrong and against the guidelines.”

Dr O’Kane is yet to register a conflict of interest regarding the Narrabri coal seam gas project, because it is yet to come before the IPC.

She also pointed out the Santos conflict appears in her Commissioner Conflict of Interest Statement, which was lodged when she started the role.

Dr O’Kane believes her 2014 inquiry in to coal seam gas as NSW chief scientist was a larger conflict of interest than the $25 million donation, which went towards setting up the Australia School of Petroleum at the university. 

“All of the earlier Santos conflicts are already on the record due to inquiry,” Dr O’Kane said.

“I won’t have any involvement in areas that were subject to a formal report I made as chief scientist and engineer.

“Instead the minister will pick one of my fellow commissioners to act as the chair for that case.

“Managing probity is necessary requirement for the IPC to be effective.”

Dr O’Kane has already stood aside from a current investigation into the Cabbage Tree Road Sand Quarry, because she gave advice regarding the quarry in relation to the Williamtown PFAS contamination case.


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