Favour focus in airport deal
A new report finds failures by a federal department over Western Sydney Airport land deals.
An independent review has found federal officials were driven to maintain a “positive relationship” with wealthy landowners in the purchase of land for the Western Sydney Airport.
Department officials entered into a deal that saw the government buy land for 10 times its market value.
The deal was made by the federal Department of Infrastructure, which also commissioned a review after details of the deal caused public outrage.
The report found the officials involved had “no experience in acquisition of land for public purposes”.
They managed to follow the requirements of the Land Acquisitions Act (LAA), but disregarded factors that brought “unnecessary risk” of not “achieving value for money”.
“While an understandable strategy for the handling of relevant LPC properties was developed, it was heavily focused on maintaining a positive relationship with LPC,” the review said.
“In undertaking the acquisition, relevant officers made, or failed to make, a number of decisions which exposed the acquisition to unnecessary risk.
“It is clear that the Department did not undertake all reasonable steps to determine what a suitable cost would be for the Government to acquire the property, to demonstrate that the price paid for the property represented an efficient, effective, economical and ethical use of public funds.”
However, the report found no evidence to “suggest poor integrity, criminal activity or personal benefit for officers involved in the transaction”.
“While there is no question that the likely future benefit from the acquisition is significant, it has come at a high reputational cost to the Department,” the report said.
The analysis found that the original $3 million price tag on the land was based on its value as agricultural land, and suggested its owners may not have accepted a deal at this price.
It suggested a compulsory acquisition process should have been employed, but also found that the landowners had a history of litigation and would have created extra costs if they challenged the move.
The Department of Infrastructure says it accepts the recommendations of the independent review.