Liberals deny wind conflict

From The Age, journalist Royce Millar. February 24, 2012

ACTING premier Peter Ryan has rejected opposition attacks against a Liberal backbencher and his personal campaign against a wind farm to be built next to his property in western Victoria.

On Wednesday, The Age reported concerns by the opposition and Greens about MP Simon Ramsay’s lobbying against plans by Spanish-owned energy company Acciona to install 63 wind turbines near his property at Birregurra, near Colac. Among their allegations was that Mr Ramsay, a Western Victorian upper house member, had not adequately declared his interest in Acciona’s Mount Gellibrand project ahead of voting on the Coalition’s tough new rules for wind energy last year.

The opposition and Greens had said Mr Ramsay should have disclosed to the Parliament that he was in negotiations with Acciona and had made requests including that the company remove or relocate turbines, and buy his family farm. In a letter to Acciona, Mr Ramsay also flagged an intention to ask the government to impose changes to the Mount Gellibrand scheme, including removing turbines.

In response to the story, Mr Ryan said he understood that MPs needed to be careful about conflicts of interest.

However, he said he believed Mr Ramsay was entitled to vote because the matter before the Parliament was about statewide wind farm regulations, not specifically about the Mount Gellibrand project. ”As I understand it this particular property and the development to which it relates has not been the subject of specific legislative initiatives in the Parliament.”

But both the opposition and the Greens have confirmed they would refer the matter to the privileges committee.

Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said Mr Ryan’s assessment of when a conflict of interest existed did not pass the ”common sense test”. ”It’s such a narrow reading that it’s clear that it’s difficult to imagine an instance where you would have a conflict of interest.”

The Age also reported opposition concerns that Mr Ramsay had made use of his position as a Coalition MP to make his case against Acciona’s plan.

Mr Ryan confirmed that Mr Ramsay had written to planning minister Matthew Guy about the Mount Gellibrand project. But he stressed that his approaches were as a private citizen, not an MP. ”Any citizen is entitled to present his case … I don’t understand him to have done anything wrong.”

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