9 March 2018

Chief Minister still has questions to answer on Dickson land swap deal, says Coe

| Ian Bushnell
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The Dickson Tradies. The Canberra Liberals say the land swap deal is ‘scandalous’.

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe is continuing to press the Government on the controversial 2014 Dickson land swap deal, accusing Chief Minister Andrew Barr of breaching the ACT Ministerial Code of Conduct and calling for a further investigation into the arrangement.

The deal, in which the ACT sold Block 30 (formerly known as Block 20) Section 34, Dickson to the Canberra Tradesmen’s Union Club Ltd (the Tradies) for $3.18 million in return for the Territory purchasing from the Tradies Block 6 Section 72 for $3.55 million and Block 25 Section 72 for $45,000, was criticised by the Auditor-General for not achieving value for money, an ineffective tender process and possibly breaching the Planning and Development Act.

Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman said the Auditor-General had found no evidence of wrong-doing and that the creation of new agencies to replace the Land Development Agency had improved governance and oversight, and the ‘matter was now put to bed’.

But Mr Coe says there are at least five ethical principles in the Code of Conduct that may have been breached, homing in on the Labor Party’s links to the CFMEU which owns the Tradies.

“The Labor-Greens Government went out of its way to create benefits for the CFMEU-linked Tradies by changing key contract clauses. No other tenderer had access to these changes making the final contract ‘fundamentally and materially altered’ from the original RFT. It seems the Government rules to keep its Labor mates happy,” Mr Coe said.

Satelite image of blocks in scandalous Dickson land deals

Satellite image of the blocks involved in the Dickson land swap.

He said Mr Barr had remained silent about the deal after ‘one of the worst probity breaches in Canberra’s history’.

“Instead, Minister Gentleman said the report put the matter to bed. Clearly, he was wrong and we are still waiting to hear from the Chief Minister,” Mr Coe said.

He said the Minister had failed to be accountable, denying responsibility and blaming public servants for the situation.

His decision to direct the Planning Directorate Director-General to answer questions about the land swap was ‘appalling’, he said.

“In a gutless abdication of ministerial responsibilities, Minister Gentleman avoided accountability by throwing one of his senior public servants into the firing line to clean up the Chief Minister’s mess. The Chief Minister has yet to assume any responsibility for his actions,” Mr Coe said.

Mr Coe said the Auditor-General had found that under the Chief Minister’s watch, the Government had unnecessarily lost $2.4-2.65 million of ACT taxpayers’ money.

“The Chief Minister has disregarded the interests of Canberrans to fuel the merry-go-round of money between ACT taxpayers and the labour movement,” Mr Coe said.

He called for further investigation into potential Government breaches of the Planning and Development Act 2007, identified by the Auditor-General.

“The scandalous Dickson deal is a grave indictment on the Chief Minister and the Labor-Greens Government that has produced a terrible outcome for ACT taxpayers,” Mr Coe said.

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