The State Government will be laughing its a*** off about the reaction to the ICAC report into the Gillman debacle.
Just about everyone is talking about Tom Koutsantonis’s unremarkable penchant for foul language, rather than some more inconvenient truths – such as the maladministration by Renewal SA, the fact that a senior Cabinet minister wouldn’t provide direct answers to an ICAC inquiry, and that there’s no way of knowing whether the deal was a good one or not.
Koutsantonis even held a press conference to apologise – for being rude to public servants.
Premier Jay Weatherill should be hauling Koutsantonis over the coals not for being a potty mouth, but for presiding over a right-royal, rolled gold, f***-up, which has compromised South Australia’s business reputation and most likely delivered a poor result to the taxpayer.
And, while he’s at it, he could perhaps ask his Treasurer about this choice revelation from Bruce Lander, the state’s chief anti-corruption officer, about the way Koutsantonis treated the ICAC investigation:
“I found that Minister Koutsantonis was inclined not to answer direct questions directly. His evidence in relation to whether the 2 December 2013 Cabinet submission should have included particular information is but an example. Witnesses who do not answer questions directly do not assist. A witness should assume that the purpose of an examiner asking a question is to obtain a precise answer to that question.”
Apologise for swearing? Koutsantonis should apologise for his f***ing cheek in not cooperating in a 100 per cent direct way with an ICAC inquiry (read the report – the Q&A between Lander and Koutsantonis, starting on page 124, is quite astounding).
He should also apologise for sponsoring a Cabinet submission (mentioned above) pushing the benefits of the deal which failed to mention key points – such as the fact that the board of Renewal SA had previously rejected the sale of the Gillman land to a single party without going to tender.
Weatherill and Koutsantonis could also consider an apology for trampling over the now totally r**ted Westminster concept of ministerial responsibility, with the Premier and Treasurer glowing in the warm light of their ICAC exoneration while public servants are hung out to dry for producing the exact outcome they desired.
And, while they’re at it, perhaps they should also apologise for the dozens of times they assured the public that the Gillman deal was a great one for the taxpayer and for jobs.
Because Lander, like Justice Malcolm Blue before him, has exposed that rhetoric as complete bullsh**.
Lander points out that there was no contemporary valuation when Cabinet deliberated on the proposal.
Under questioning during the investigation, Weatherill conceded that such a valuation would have been prudent.
No sh** Sherlock!
Let’s recap briefly why this point is important.
Back in December 2013, the Government announced with great fanfare that it had offloaded the old MFP land at Gillman to the Adelaide Capital Partners (ACP) consortium for $100 million, in a deal that would allegedly create an “oil and gas hub” and an astounding 6000 jobs.
The deal immediately started going bad, with half the board of Renewal SA resigning because the Government had agreed to sell the land without going to market.
InDaily launched a two-month investigation which discovered the depths of the board’s concerns (including its initial rejection of the deal), and the fact (despite government denials) that there had been significant other private interest in the Gillman land.
Since then there’s been a parliamentary inquiry, a major legal case, a revamp of the way the Government deals with so-called “unsolicited” bids and, now, an ICAC investigation.
The Government has been scathing of journalists and others who have questioned the deal, suggesting South Australia is in such dire straits that we need an almost ‘anything goes’ approach to creating economic development.
But its two key arguments in favour of the deal – that the sale price represents good value, and that it will create jobs – have been scuttled by comprehensive reviews by outsiders, the latest being the ICAC inquiry.
In his forensic fashion, Lander shows how members of the Renewal SA board – almost to the exclusion of everyone else, including the agency’s management, and the political leadership of this state – understood the risks in selling the land without a contemporary valuation and without testing the market.
Clearing the board of any wrong-doing, Lander says Renewal SA management’s practices resulted in a “substantial mismanagement of public resources”.
He also cleared Weatherill and Koutsantonis of maladministration, but Lander makes it clear that the deal over which they presided is likely to be a dud.
He doesn’t believe ACP’s staged plan for the land will go ahead.
He doesn’t know if it represents value.
“I cannot say that the Option Deed represents a good or bad transaction from the State’s and (Renewal SA’s) points of view,” his report says.
“I suspect it will not be favourable unless all three Options are exercised and the transaction represents value.
“I also suspect that ACP will not exercise all three Options even if it settles on the Stage 1 Settlement Date. I do not know if the Option Deed represents value because there is no current valuation.”
So, after a mind-blowingly detailed examination of the deal, Lander can’t say whether it’s a good one or not.
The new boss of Renewal SA, John Hanlon, has a clearer view.
He told the inquiry the deal “tied up” an unnecessarily large portion of land for the best part of a decade.
“It is an extraordinary transaction and that you do question why,” he told Lander. “There does not seem to be benefit; there is not benefit to the state in relation to this.”
Hanlon, a vastly experienced state planning bureaucrat, has belled the cat.
The Government has been revealed as one that acted in hope, on the vibe of the proposal, that gambled f*** knows how many millions of your dollars and mine on something that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Despite all that, Weatherill insists that the Government has been “vindicated” over the deal – and he’d do it all again if he had his time over.
If that’s really the Premier’s take home message from this debacle then we’re truly r**ted.
David Washington is editor of InDaily.