AGL fined $124k over political donations

Energy company AGL has been fined $124,000 for breaching political disclosure laws. (AAP)

Energy company AGL has been fined $124,000 for breaching political disclosure laws in relation to donations it made in NSW to the major parties.

Energy giant AGL has been fined $124,000 for failing to declare thousands of dollars in political donations it made to the Labor, Liberal and National parties while it was making planning applications.

The penalty, handed down in the NSW Land and Environment Court on Thursday, comes after AGL last year pleaded guilty to 11 counts of breaking political disclosure laws between January 2008 and April 2014.

The donations, totalling $73,800 during the six-year period, came at a time when the company was seeking approval for 11 planning proposals, including a massive coal seam gas project near the mid-north coast town of Gloucester.

The offences arose "as a consequence of a series of systemic failures within AGL's administrative processes", Justice Timothy Moore ruled.

The outcome is a major win for anti-CSG group Groundswell Gloucester, which brought the issue to light in 2014, engaging the NSW Environmental Defenders Office to investigate the issue.

The Department of Planning and Environment subsequently prosecuted AGL on nearly a dozen charges relating to applications regarding CSG projects in Gloucester and Camden, the Newcastle Gas Storage Facility, the Broken Hill Solar plant and the Dalton Power Station.

Groundswell Gloucester spokesman John Watts said he was pleased the energy company was finally being held accountable for the breaches.

"But we think the fine is still quite small considering the billions of dollars such companies spend on mining projects," he told AAP.

AGL pulled out of CSG drilling and exploration in NSW and Queensland after the complaints were made in 2015.

Mr Watts said the saga had shown how inadequate NSW's system of political disclosure was.

"It's very hard to investigate these breaches because there's no real-time reporting of political donations," he said.

"This issue would never have come to light without the research being done by ordinary members of the public."

Mr Watts has urged the state government to force corporations to make immediate donations disclosures via a public register.

The planning department says under current legislation, there is an obligation for companies to report political donations when making a planning application.

"This is to ensure transparency in the planning process," the department's general counsel James Hebron said in a statement on Thursday.

AGL was also ordered to pay the department's legal costs as part of Thursday's ruling.

Source AAP

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