NT ministers approved $ 12 million grant for Darwin Turf Club forum without “rigorous” process, ICAC says

A business case for a publicly funded forum at the Darwin Turf Club included “unfounded and spurious claims” and was created just a day before Cabinet ministers agreed to hand over $ 12 million for the project, a report by the independent NT commissioner against corruption. [ICAC] found.

The multi-million dollar grant for the Fannie Bay Racetrack’s three-tier corporate facility was approved by the NT government in mid-June 2019.

A selection committee set up by the turf club then awarded the lucrative construction contract to a company jointly owned by the club president.

An ICAC report released yesterday resulted in multiple findings of improper conduct.

Commissioner Ken Fleming’s report shows that the grass club’s grant application for the grandstand was to be assessed as part of the government’s market-led proposal [MLP] Politics.

But despite repeated requests from “conscientious departmental staff” for the turf club to provide the documentation needed for the assessment, the report says none were provided until the day before the Cabinet meeting.

ICAC Commissioner Ken Fleming discovered that the grass club’s fundraising request contained many “bare assertions.”(

ABC News: Alan Dowler

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That day, the chief of staff to then-chief minister Alf Leonardi wrote to turf club president Brett Dixon, saying the documents were “urgent”.

“It seems that the ‘business case’… has not been written. It was created that morning, ”says the ICAC report.

The grant application – signed by Mr Dixon and written by lawn club CEO Keith Stacy – was sent that afternoon to the director general of the Department of Business, Trade and Innovation.

“It is important to note that the request was never examined or analyzed according to the criteria of the [MLP] policy, ”says the ICAC report.

A digital print of a proposed three-tier grandstand at Fannie Bay Racecourse
The Darwin Turf Club, funded by the NT government, worth $ 12 million, has been the subject of an ICAC investigation.(

Provided: Darwin Turf Club

)

“It cannot be said that the subsidy was justified by a rigorous process within government.”

Commissioner Fleming said the grass club’s request for funding contained many “bare assertions”.

“The simplest is to request a grant of $ 12 million as the cost of construction,” the report says.

“There is no basis contained in the bid for this figure. None existed.”

The Commissioner also concluded that the so-called business case was “ill-founded and misleading” as it made “unverified” claims about the number of people who would attend events at the proposed venue.

“Other claims throughout the rest of the submission, such as the proposition that when built it would employ 100 people (which would have tripled DTCI employees) are fantastic and bogus.”

Chief Minister Michael Gunner stands before a microphone with a serious expression.  Behind him, the Australian flag.
Michael Gunner said Cabinet was unaware the proposal had not been rigorously tested.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

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After the report was released, the chief minister said Cabinet was unaware of any shortcomings in the submission when it approved the grant.

“Cabinet was unaware that the proposal had not been rigorously tested and validated prior to Cabinet review,” said Michael Gunner.

“The market-driven proposal process was reversed and it led to the transmission of erroneous and incomplete information to the Cabinet Room and to the Cabinet which made the decision it would not have made if it had. had all the information that should have been made available to him. “

As part of the changes being implemented to deal with the ICAC findings, Gunner said ministers will have monthly briefings on all market-led proposals.

“The intention behind the MLP process is good – to ensure that requests for government support are developed independently of the Cabinet which ultimately makes those decisions,” he said.

“But as this process has shown, when ministers stepped down, it was easier for unsatisfactory conduct to occur.”

Mr Gunner said the government plans to take civil action against any private entity or individual who may have benefited from the grant, based on undisclosed conflicts of interest or misconduct.

He said the government would also seek to recoup the $ 12 million provided to the turf club through reduced funding over several years.

In addition, he called on the Turf Club board to resign so that a director can be appointed, pending the appointment of a new board.


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About Christopher Easley

Christopher Easley

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