FRIDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECT: Airport land rorts.
CATHERINE KINGSHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Reports today that the Australian Federal Police is now investigating the Morrison’s deal to purchase land in the Leppington Triangle at Western Sydney Airport at the inflated price of $30 million is welcome. The Australian National Audit Office found serious deficiencies in the way this purchase was undertaken. How on earth the Morrison government managed to pay $30 million for a piece of land that was later valued some 11 months later, at only $3 million. This is a piece of land and the acquisition of which the Deputy Prime Minister told us was a bargain and that was a good decision, and the Prime Minister dismissed as being just an issue of poor process. There is something very fishy about what has gone on here. Labor welcomes that the Australian Federal Police are now investigating the matter. We’ll be asking some questions of the department and the ministers at Senate Estimates on Monday. But it is absolutely vital. If we’re going to have any, any confidence at all in the Morrison Government’s billions of dollars that is going into Western Sydney Airport, the billions of dollars that are going into infrastructure programs, we need to get the bottom of what has happened with this dodgy deal, a dirty deal that’s been done not so dirt cheap. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Do you want a parliamentary inquiry into this?
KING: Well, we’ll use the processes of Senate Estimates for a start. That’s the first time we’ll be able to ask questions directly of the department and responsible ministers over in the Senate, as well as have the Australian National Audit Office appear before the Senate as well. We’ll use those processes next week. We’ll certainly also look at what the scope of the Australian Federal Police investigation is, and see what avenues we might also have through the Parliament. But this is incredibly important. You know, this is not just an acquisition that’s been done $30 million for a $3 million piece of land. There are billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money going into Western Sydney Airport. We’re hearing again, just in the last few days, that there are broader issues around ICAC and roads around Badgerys Creek. If there is any, any corruption that has occurred, any criminal activity that has occurred, including on the part of the department or any of its ministers or staff, we absolutely need to get to the bottom of it immediately.
REPORTER: Did Labor have any hand in the referral of this matter?
KING: No, we haven’t referred this matter. Obviously there’s a lot we don’t know. We have had an initial briefing from the Australian National Audit Office, where we did get some indication that there might be some issues of criminality, but what this report basically shows is what happened, how it happened, what we don’t know and what we hope the AFP gets to the bottom of is why this happened, who made the decisions, who benefited from the decisions and what actually occurred in to make those decisions happen. But the referral was not made by Labor.
REPORTER: So was that briefing suggesting material had been handed over to police?
KING: I won’t disclose what was a private briefing between the Australian National Audit Office other than to say that we’re not surprised by the referral to the Australian Federal Police, but the referral has not been made by us.
KING: Well, again, we just don’t know. As I said, it is very clear that the Morrison Government’s acquisition of this land, $30 million for $3 million piece of land. But not only that, no the realignment of a million dollar road project a $10 million underpass that benefited the seller of this particular land. What we do need to know is to get to the bottom of who made this decision, who did this benefit this decision benefit and why was this decision made? Again, this is a decision that the Prime Minister dismissed as just a poor process and the Deputy Prime Minister just a few weeks ago said was a bargain and something that the Australian public would come to say as a very good decision.
KING: I think it is shocking. I think it is shocking that the Deputy Prime Minister who is in charge of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, for land acquisitions, for infrastructure for Western Sydney Airport, a multi billion dollar project, somehow dismisses something so scandalous as this audit report and this land acquisition as a bargain and a good process. There is something very, very smelly that’s gone on here and it’s important that we get to the bottom of it.
REPORTER: Does this require a broader overhaul or examination of Government spending on infrastructure?
KING: Well, I think this certainly needs to be much greater scrutiny, certainly around the issues of Western Sydney Airport, as we’ve seen from ICAC hearings this week, certainly a lot more scrutiny, a lot more transparency about what is happening with taxpayer money in these important infrastructure projects and the government needs to come clean with what it knows about what happened in this land acquisition and I certainly hope the AFP investigation exposes some of that.
KING: It beggars belief that a minister of the crown responsible for a multi billion dollar airport build would not read a brief about the purchase of land and not ask the basic question as what is the price? And is this value for taxpayers money? It beggars belief that that occurred, it is either incompetence, or it could be something else, but we just don’t know at this stage and hopefully the AFP investigation will get to the bottom of that.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – PARLIAMENT HOUSE – FRIDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2020