Thirty five Treasury documents expressing concern about the Government’s State Aquatic Centre deal had been blocked from release by the Government under Freedom of Information (FoI) laws.
In June the Rann Government announced that the Aqua43 consortium, including MacQuarie Bank and Candetti Constructions, had been the successful tenderers for the $50 million State Aquatic Centre and $27 million GP Plus project at Marion.
Premier Mike Rann announced that the State Government, Federal Government and Marion Council would now contribute $40 million plus the land value (which some estimates put at more than $5 million) towards the final cost of the $50 million aquatic centre.
Liberal Member of the Legislative Council, Rob Lucas, said today that State Budget papers also indicated a $27 million capital contribution from taxpayers towards the GP Plus Centre at Marion.
“In evidence to the Legislative Council Budget and Finance Committee in June, Under Treasurer Jim Wright refused to answer questions on whether Treasury supported the deal or whether they had expressed concerns about the deal,” Mr Lucas said.
“Treasury had also now refused all 35 documents identified as the result of the following FoI request:
“Copies of all documents, including emails and notes of telephone conversations that express any caution or concern about the Government deal with the Aqua43 consortium for the State Aquatic Centre and GP Plus project at Marion”
“In addition to the usual reasons for refusal, such as Cabinet confidentiality, Treasury refused one confidential memo from Mr Wright on the grounds that it “contains information relating to the business affairs of the agency and shows internal opinion and deliberation which would be against the public interest”!
“Treasury’s concerns come after people within the industry with detailed knowledge of the project and tendering process had raised a number of concerns,” Mr Lucas said. They include:
• The successful tenderer (out of three short-listed consortia) had won the tender by bidding on the basis that Government costs of the project would be kept much lower than if other tenderers were successful, but then changed that position after they won the bid;
• When the Government was confronted with a changed bid from MacQuarie/Candetti, it did not go back to the other short-listed consortia to allow them to alter their bids or have their bids reconsidered;
• Given the very high funding commitment now from Governments and Council, MacQuarie/ Candetti would make an unreasonable profit at taxpayers’ expense.
“In June, Mr Wright indicated Crown Law advice on probity issues relating to this matter had been sought before the Government confirmed the process,” he said.
“However, the Liberal Opposition has now been informed that after the questions were raised at the Budget and Finance Committee meeting, the Crown Solicitor Simon Stretton and senior Crown Law officers had raised serious concerns about the Rann Government’s handling of the process for awarding the tender and related probity issues.
“It is interesting to note that some of the documents refused for release include “advice from the Crown Solicitor’s Office,” dated September 2008, well after Mr Rann announced Aqua43 as the successful bidder in June.
“There is no doubt that if these documents are released there will be major embarrassment for Messrs Rann, Foley and Conlon, who are the key Ministers involved in the project. The Liberal Opposition will pursue release of these documents through an appeal to the Ombudsman.
“If the Rann Government continues to refuse to answer serious questions on this deal, then there will be no option other than for the Auditor General to conduct an investigation of the total deal.”
Note: This release directs criticism at the Rann Government’s handling of this project and not the private sector companies involved.