The government is seeking briefings from financial regulators and the industry department about claims from independent MP Andrew Wilkie that some in the coal industry had lied about the quality of Australian exports, with the resources minister, Madeleine King, calling the allegations “concerning”.
Several major coal companies named by Wilkie in parliament have vehemently denied his claims of “fraud”, pointing out some such claims had been investigated and considered by regulators and police.
“It is a mystery why everyone from the federal police to Asic have not acted on this whistleblower’s concerns,” Wilkie told a press conference.
“It seems to me to be quite simply a failure of those organisations to do their job.”
In a speech to the House of Representatives on Monday morning, under parliamentary privilege, Wilkie said he had received thousands of documents from someone he described as a coal company executive. He alleged the documents showed some coal companies were claiming their product was cleaner than it was, allowing them to charge higher prices and avoid restrictions imposed by certain countries on dirtier coal.
“Coal companies operating in Australia are using fraudulent quality reports for their exports, and paying bribes to representatives of their overseas customers to keep the whole scam secret,” Wilkie claimed.
“This shocking misconduct includes exports to Japan, South Korea, China and India, and involves companies including Terracom (TerraCom), Anglo American, Glencore, Peabody and Macquarie Bank.”
Wilkie also claimed coal-testing companies ALS and SGS had been involved in fraudulent testing. He detailed one specific instance where he claimed the moisture content in a coal sample was initially set at 16.7% but later amended to 15.9%, which is drier and burns cleaner.
Guardian Australia has contacted each company for a response, as well as the Australian Minerals Council.
A Peabody spokesperson told Guardian Australia “Peabody strenuously denies Mr Wilkie’s claims”.
A spokesperson for Anglo American also rejected the claims.
“The allegations made by Andrew Wilkie MP with regard to Anglo American are entirely false,” they said.
“We take these matters very seriously and when issues surrounding testing were first reported on by media in early 2020, we undertook an investigation which found no evidence that any of our cargoes had been impacted.”
“We have communicated with Mr Wilkie’s office to ensure he has correct information.”
An ALS representative noted that the company told the Australian Stock Exchange in a statement in April 2020 that an independent investigation had found “approximately 45-50% of certificates of analysis were manually amended without justification” in one stream of the business since 2007. The statement said the company had found no evidence of bribery or third-party payments.
ALS’s 14 November financial report stated claims that Asic had told the company “it has concluded the investigation and has decided that it will not take any enforcement action against ALS, its subsidiaries, or its current officers and employees.”
Asic was contacted for comment.
Wilkie called the parliament to set up an inquiry into the claims. He was supported in that push by fellow independent MPs Helen Haines, Sophie Scamps, Monique Ryan, Zoe Daniels and Kate Chaney.
He claimed that federal and NSW police, as well as government departments and agencies including the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (Asic) were aware of the information, but had not taken action.
Asked at a press conference why those agencies had not taken further action, Wilkie said he was unsure.
“[The whistleblower] is a senior coal executive. These are legitimate documents he has,” he said.
King, the minister for resources, said the government was seeking briefings about the matters raised by Wilkie.
“These reports are concerning. The government will look into reports of misleading information about quality of exports,” a spokesperson told Guardian Australia.
“The government has requested briefings from Asic and from the Department of Industry about this matter.”
King said the government was “committed to maintaining Australia’s reputation as a reliable and competitive supplier of high-quality metallurgical and thermal coal”.
The Labor MP Josh Wilson told ABC TV that Wilkie’s claims were “serious allegations and should be taken seriously”.
The Australian Conservation Foundation said it supported calls for an inquiry.
“The Australian coal industry’s reputation is in tatters following these damning revelations,” said ACF CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy.
“This should spell an end to Australian politicians – including Prime Minister Albanese – perpetuating the myth that Australian coal is somehow cleaner than coal from elsewhere.”