Moore / Labor cops an unhelpful hiding on integrity

“The auditor general’s scathing report adds fuel to concerns about the length of time Labor has served in government and apprehension about the complacency regarding integrity,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

ACCOUNTABILITY and integrity are regularly cited as a key issue by the plethora of small parties and independents that make up the 141 candidates standing for the election in the ACT.

Political opportunism combines with genuine concern when even the most minor levels of corruption are identified in government.

A scathing report by ACT auditor-general Maxine Cooper could not have come at a better time for those candidates. Or at a worse time for Andrew Barr’s Labor government.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore.

The report, “Certain Land Development Agency Acquisitions, 7/2016”, begins: “Transparency, accountability and rigour have been lacking in the processes used by the Land Development Agency” and adds that the auditor-general “will consider conducting a broader audit on the Land Development Agency”.

This report adds fuel to concerns about the length of time Labor has served in government and apprehension about the complacency regarding integrity.

Casino Canberra has landed right in the middle of election issues. Canberra Community Voters, for example, have been established to oppose pokies in the casino. Casino owners, Aquis Entertainment, proposed a “quid pro quo” to take on a huge development in one of the quieter parts of Civic including two new hotels, with a hundred five-star rooms, restaurants and high-end retail outlets. Candidates are questioning the integrity of the process.

The casino development deal was proposed for Glebe Park in one of the areas under question in last Friday’s auditor-general’s report. Ms Cooper pointed to anomalies in the relationship between the Land Development Agency (LDA) and the way they used Colliers as valuers. The land in Glebe Park changed value from $4.2 million for residential use to a valuation of $3.6-$3.8 million in an informal letter for the same zoning use despite the zoning not allowing residential at this stage and the purpose purportedly being about relocation of a stormwater pond facility.

Issues around land development and deals have underpinned the rationale for independent candidates such as former Yarralumla Residents Association president Marea Fatseas in the central seat of Kurrajong. She has letterboxed a leaflet calling for “a ban on developer donations”, “an independent integrity commissioner” and “better urban planning”.

In the same electorate the Greens candidate and ACT Minister, Shane Rattenbury, has also leafleted a call for an independent integrity commissioner. The Like Canberra party’s Maryann Mussared calls for an “increased public confidence and transparency”.

andrew barr

Andrew Barr… wearing the flak. Photo Andrew Campbell

Some will argue that the raft of non-majors pushing this line are just jumping on a bandwagon. However, the issues have been around for too long to be dismissed that easily. Others will argue that the auditor-general has just demonstrated her role in maintaining integrity is enough. Most candidates are looking for more.

The Abbott government appointed the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, under Commissioner John Dyson Heydon. It successfully exposed national and local instances of corruption that, unfortunately, reflects badly on all unions.

As I pointed out in this column in March, the ACT was not spared. The flipside has not entered the general consciousness. Corrupt union officials indicate corrupt businessmen prepared to part with the money.

At the time Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson released a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the government and UnionsACT, obtained under FOI. Amongst other things, it stated: “Prior to any contract being awarded: The list of tenderers for each contract will be provided to UnionsACT” and later: “Only providers/performers of works and services who meet the set criteria will be pre-qualified”. The Memorandum of Understanding had been signed many years before Andrew Barr became Chief Minister. Unfortunately for Labor – the government still wears the flak.

Jeremy Hanson… revealed the MoU with UnionsACT. Photo Andrew Campbell

Jeremy Hanson… revealed the MoU with UnionsACT. Photo Andrew Campbell

Under this sort of pressure, Barr has finally conceded the need for an Integrity Commission. A doubt remains for me. Will the Independent Integrity Commission be completely open in its remit? Will there be restrictions in the legislation such that it cannot, for example, investigate the conflict of interest between Labor members and poker machine revenue?

The issue of corruption, accountability and integrity has been under long-term sustained criticism by the Canberra Liberals. However, many years of successful minority governments with cross-benchers holding whoever is in government accountable provides a strong motivator for voters to look beyond the major parties.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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