Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack and his department won’t commit to making public an independent report into the controversial purchase of land at vastly-inflated cost for the western Sydney airport, dodging questions as Labor calls for “absolute transparency” on the deal.
A scathing auditor-general report claimed infrastructure department officials’ conduct “fell short of ethical standards” and was “not appropriate” over the purchase for the under-construction Western Sydney airport.
Taxpayers shelled out $30 million for land – known as the Leppington Triangle – in 2018. Less than a year later, it was valued at $3.065 million.
The land was purchased in anticipation of a second runway at the airport, but it won’t be needed until 2050.
Paul Fletcher, the minister for urban infrastructure at the time, claimed the details were “concealed” from him.
The Department of Infrastructure has committed to two probes of its own following the auditor-general report.
There will be an internal audit of staff and an independent investigation.
However, neither the department nor Mr McCormack, who is also the Deputy PM, would say whether those reports would be made public, or reveal any further details.
“The right measures will be put into place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” Mr McCormack told The New Daily on Monday, when asked if he would like to see the department’s report released publicly.
Pressed again, he said “I’ll be having those discussions with the Infrastructure Secretary. I’ll be having those discussions going forward.”
He said “the money that we spent was way too much”, but that he had “every confidence in the Infrastructure Department”.
Last week, Mr McCormack called the purchase a “bargain”.
On Monday, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that “those processes are working their way through the system”. He also added “I think you will find that there is some more to come in relation to that”, but gave no further details.
TND requested further details of the independent investigation on several occasions last week and on Monday from the department, including:
- Who is carrying out the independent investigation;
- When that investigation began;
- What funding the department has allocated to the investigation;
- What timeframe has been set for a report to be submitted; and
- Whether the department would make that report publicly available.
On Tuesday, a department spokesperson said they had “no further comment” beyond a public statement released on September 22, which said that an internal investigation had begun.
“The department acknowledges the findings of the ANAO and has agreed to all recommendations contained in the report,” the earlier statement read.
“The department has launched an investigation of staff conduct in the matter and will follow the due process of a formal investigation with an independent investigator. The department is committed to implementing the changes outlined in our response to the audit to ensure this does not happen again.”
In a later update to TND, the department said the independent review would “ensure the findings of the audit are addressed”, and the internal review would look into “matters of staff conduct identified by the ANAO, which will ensure the concerns raised are specifically addressed”.
In a statement last week, a department spokesperson said they did “not wish to pre-empt these processes and will make further detail available at an appropriate time”.
Labor infrastructure spokeswoman Catherine King said the reports should absolutely be made public so the public could “have confidence in the government’s infrastructure spending program”.
“It needs to be absolutely transparent about not only what happened and how it happened, but why did it happen and why it occurred,” she told TND on Monday.
“Until the government fronts up to the Parliament and to the media and tells them that, this project will continue to smell to high heaven.”
Ms King said Labor would “be investigating this further”.
“It makes it pretty hard to have confidence in the government’s spending on infrastructure and its investment in infrastructure when it does something so blatant as wasting taxpayer money in that way,” she said.