Darwin Turf Club grandstand scandal: Conflicts of interest rife on Turf Club board, Jaytex’s bank voted for company to win contract

by | Jun 19, 2021 | Darwin Turf Club, News, NT Politics | 0 comments

The Darwin Turf Club’s major players, including those who sat on the panel that selected Jaytex as the winning contractor for the $12 million grandstand project, had serious conflicts of interest, some of which do not appear to have been disclosed, the NT Independent can reveal.

One of the five tender selection panellists who voted for Jaytex to win the taxpayer-funded grandstand contract was a banker from the same bank that handles Jaytex’s business, another had completed legal work for the Turf Club, and the probity adviser appears to have overseen the process in exchange for horse-racing tickets from the club.

Other various conflicts of interest saw board members personally benefit off their positions on the board of the not-for-profit organisation from arrangements that have not been fully disclosed.

The NT Independent can also reveal that three of the five panellists on the grandstand selection panel voted for Jaytex – the company owned by chairman Brett Dixon – while one voted for a different company and another panellist had Jaytex tied with another bidder.

Internal Turf Club records, obtained by the NT Independent, show Westpac corporate banker Suzi Hullick was installed on the five-person panel that selected Jaytex as the winning bidder on the grandstand.

According to Jaytex’s website, Westpac is the company’s commercial bank and was the first client for Jaytex’s corporate business park at Berrimah.

There is no record of who asked Ms Hullick to sit on the selection panel and it remains unclear if Ms Hullick disclosed her perceived conflict of interest to the rest of the panel before voting for Jaytex to win the contract.

Westpac is also the Turf Club’s bank, and awarded it with what appears to be a $5.6 million loan to build the Silks lounge in 2019, with $3.5 million of that guaranteed by the NT Government.

That contract was also awarded to Jaytex Constructions.

Ms Hullick and Mr Dixon declined to comment on the perceived conflict of interest of having a representative from Jaytex’s bank on the panel that selected it for the $12 million contract. Ms Hullick also did not say if she had declared the perceived conflict.

The August 2019 board minutes show that three of the five selection panel members voted for Jaytex, while “one panel member had tied scores and one was for the unsuccessful tenderer”.

The NT Independent can reveal that the three votes for Jaytex were from Turf Club board members Damien Moriarty and James Herraman – and banker Suzi Hullick.

The tied scores for Jaytex and Sunbuild were produced by the NT Government representative Jason Finlay and lawyer Rose Watts had scored Sunbuild as the winning contractor.

The panel then approved Jaytex for the contract, which the NT Independent has previously revealed was endorsed by the Turf Club board despite members fearing an ICAC investigation.

Ms Watts and Mr Finlay did not respond to questions.

Ms Watts was a lawyer with Squire Patton Boggs at the time. The firm had undertaken legal work for the Turf Club, including for matters involving the grandstand project. She was the only member of the selection panel to vote against Jaytex.

Probity advisor was working for Turf Club tickets

The Turf Club’s grandstand tender process was overseen by local accountant Nathan Reichstein, of firm Moore Stephens, who acted as probity adviser.

According to Turf Club records, Mr Reichstein “was happy to complete this process as a contra arrangement as he has done in the past before”.

Minutes from the August 28, 2019 board meeting – where it was revealed that Jaytex was the winning bidder on the project – show the board had resolved that “an invoice [is] to be raised to adequately capture the nature of the contra arrangement and ensure both parties satisfied”.

Mr Reichstein then told the board that “this tender process was very well handled and as good as any others that he has done”, according to the minutes of the meeting.

He declined to answer the NT Independent’s questions, including what exactly he was remunerated with and whether accepting contra for a job that involved a high-level of impartiality may have created the perception of impropriety.

Conflicts of interest rife on the DTC board – disclosed and undisclosed

The Darwin Turf Club’s board requires disclosure of interests at the beginning of every board meeting, with each of the board members’ interests listed in the minutes.

However, not all interests have been disclosed.

Lawyer Andrew Giles was appointed as a board member in September 2019 following the resignation of Dale Bicheno.

But that appointment is problematic given that Mr Giles is Mr Dixon’s personal lawyer and his firm HWL Ebsworth represents the Darwin Turf Club.

Mr Giles has also represented Jayex co-director Matthew Moss.

Mr Giles listed those conflicts on his disclosures list with the club, but it remains unclear how he manages that conflict on a regular basis and whether he has to leave board meetings when legal issues are discussed.

Also, Mr Giles failed to disclose that his bar was paid by the Turf Club to host the board’s taxpayer-funded Christmas soiree in 2019.

Minutes from the October 15, 2019 board meeting show the board approved holding their 2019 “Christmas Dinner” at Trader Bar, although the exact cost was not disclosed.

ASIC records show Mr Giles is the co-owner of Trader Bar but he did not disclose that on the disclosure of interests list before or after the club held its party at his establishment.

He refused to answer questions posed by the NT Independent and threatened legal action for publishing the facts.

“There is no basis whatsoever for an allegation that anything improper has occurred,” he wrote in an email.

“Any suggestion otherwise would be grossly defamatory of me in both a personal and professional capacity.

“I naturally reserve my rights should you proceed to publish these allegations despite being placed on notice that they are inaccurate and defamatory.”

It is unclear what “allegations” Mr Giles was referring.

Unvalued ‘marketing services’ provided; links to NT Labor

Turf Club board member and publisher of vanity publication Territory Q magazine Anya Lorimer was also the recipient of money from the Turf Club board, but exactly how much remains unclear.

She has published glowing articles about various Turf Club members, including a front-page feature on chairman Brett Dixon in early 2015, entitled “Building an empire one brick at a time”.

In June 2019, Ms Lorimer also published a positive article on probity adviser Nathan Reichstein – just weeks before he was appointed probity adviser for the grandstand deal. It is unclear who paid for that article.

Stories in Territory Q are traditionally published in exchange for a fee.

Ms Lorimer did not answer questions about how much she received from the Turf Club for publishing articles, nor did she say how much the club has paid her for other work including producing promotional videos and offering communications advice.

According to her disclosure of interests, she has “sponsorship arrangements” with the Turf Club and “provides marketing services”.

Ms Lorimer also has strong ties to NT Labor, having hired former party secretary Kent Rowe, who was employed by her company Campaign Edge Sprout last August while he was running Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s successful re-election campaign.

Ms Lorimer did not respond to a question about possible money paid from the party or the government last year to her company or if any of that money was used to pay Mr Rowe.

Mr Rowe was later rewarded for his campaign efforts with a senior adviser job to Mr Gunner that he was forced to resign from in February of this year, following his involvement in the so-called “cocaine sex scandal” that saw him carry out an extra-marital affair with the same sex worker MLA Mark Turner was involved with.

Brett Dixon’s disclosure of interests lists his position as “director of Darwin Corporate Park which has sponsorship arrangements with the DTC”, as well as a lease gambling agency bet365 has with his corporate park. He also stated on the disclosure that Jaytex had carried out works for the Turf Club including the pedestrian underpass and Silks lounge.

But for reasons unexplained, Mr Dixon had not listed the grandstand project on the disclosures as of December 2019 – four months after his company was awarded the project.

Mr Dixon was part of a group of four local businessmen who donated a total of $100,000 to the NT Labor Party in the lead up to the 2016 general election through the businesses Berrimah North Developments and Darwin Corporate Park.

The NT Independent previously revealed Mr Dixon had lobbied the Gunner Government for taxpayer cash for the grandstand project without the knowledge of the Darwin Turf Club.

It was also revealed that Mr Dixon had been involved with the Turf Club board’s discussions around the grandstand project while it was out to tender, despite publicly claiming he had removed himself.

He again refused to answer questions for this story.

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