ACT taxpayers may have lost out on $2.6 million in a complicated land swap deal between the ACT Government and the Tradies Club, an Auditor-General’s report has found.
The controversial deal, which involves three blocks of land in Dickson, was one of the key drivers of a failed no-confidence vote on Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s leadership last year.
Under the agreement, the CFMEU-linked Tradies Club sold two blocks — including the union headquarters — to the Government, while the Government sold a car park in the Dickson town centre to the club.
The ACT Auditor-General Maxine Cooper today released her examination of the deal, and found it was deficient in transparency, and may have seen taxpayers lose as much as $2.6 million.
“There are indications that the outcome the directorate negotiated with the tradies does not represent value for money,” she said in her report.
“There is a high risk [the directorate] has relinquished considerable financial value to the Canberra Tradesmen’s Union Club.
Dr Cooper said the terms of the deal deviated so much from the initial tender that the transaction’s validity itself could be at “significant risk” and in breach of the Planning and Development Act.
That issue arose because the deal could be regarded as a direct sale, meaning it required approval which had not been sought.
‘Government cleared’: Minister
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said the sale was “one of the biggest probity breaches in the history of the ACT”.
“The report states that the ACT Government has relinquished in the vicinity of $2 million to the Tradies Club as a result of the Government’s mismanagement,” he said.
“The fact that you have a government surrendering $2 million of value to a fellow traveller of the labour movement is absolutely scandalous.
“If the Government is claiming there’s nothing to see here, they’re obviously in denial.”
However ACT Planning and Development Minister Mick Gentleman said the report cleared the Government of wrongdoing.
“After an extensive audit into a land transaction in Dickson, the Auditor-General has ruled that she found no evidence of wrong-doing on the part of any ACT Government ministers or ACT Government officials,” he said.
“This report puts the matter to bed.”
The Government has responded to concerns about the controversy by reviewing its record keeping practices.
“The ACT Government has previously acknowledged some poor record keeping practices and decision making by the former Land Development Agency,” Mr Gentleman said