Exclusive: Consulting firm did not disclose Santos work before being paid to assist the government’s ‘future of gas statement’ that paved way for Narrabri gas development
Greens MP Abigail Boyd, who is leading a NSW parliamentary inquiry into consultants, also rejected EY’s assurances. “The NSW government should never have offered this work to EY and EY should never have accepted it,” Boyd said. “This decision has and will have a very real impact on community and climate.”
Consultancy firm EY did not tell the New South Wales government it was conducting work for Santos before being awarded a $67,375 contract to inform a policy statement that greenlit the gas giant’s Narrabri development.
EY’s involvement in the government’s “future of gas statement” was not disclosed in the July 2021 report that described the Narrabri project as “critical to drive regional economic development and support supply security”.
The statement, which was used by the government to announce it was “backing in Narrabri gas project”, also did not disclose EY was being paid by Santos for assurance services. EY separately offers gas companies strategic advice on issues like “changing regulations”.
“There is no overlap between the services EY provided to the NSW government and the firm’s external assurance work for Santos,” the spokesperson said. “Any suggestion of a conflict of interest, or that EY advocated for Santos, is inaccurate.”
“The work we undertook was economic modelling – identifying the impact of gas price changes on the NSW economy. The parameters of that modelling were set by the government.”
But the current NSW minister for natural resources, Courtney Houssos, criticised EY’s lack of disclosure. She said the incident demonstrated a need to “overhaul the use of consultants in the public service”.
“The revelation of another potential undisclosed conflict of interest under the former government adds to a systematic pattern of behaviour which only serves to undermine confidence in the development of public policy,” Houssos told Guardian Australia, "The NSW government has been clear and consistent in expressing significant concerns around the growth in the use of consultants in the public service under the former government. The government will also consider whether existing rules around disclosures of conflicts of interest are sufficient, as part of its broader consideration of the rules around the use of consultants.”
Source: Belot, H., The Guardian, "Consulting firm EY worked for gas giant Santos while advising NSW on gas policy", published 9 August 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/09/ey-worked-for-santos-while-assisting-nsw-policy-that-greenlit-gas-giants-narrabri-project