Territory taxpayers were charged more than $300,000 to fit out a new electorate office for a Gunner Government minister five months before the election through a contract that did not go to public tender, recently released government documents show.
The massive bill was more than double what the government spent to fit out a youth drop-in centre in Palmerston at the same time.
Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler moved her Drysdale electorate office to Gateway Shopping Centre in Palmerston last March, but it remains unclear why the move was necessary or if value for taxpayers was considered.
She had previously leased space in a more low-key row of businesses near the University Ave McDonald’s restaurant.
Bizarrely, the new flash office space at Gateway is not technically in her electorate.
According to financial records quietly released by the government last month, Ms Lawler’s own Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics picked up the cost of the new office fit out, which reportedly totalled $308,832 and was paid to the owner of Gateway without going through a public tender process.
The department sought an exemption from seeking quotes for the work by classifying the project as “building owner works”, which meant Gateway could charge whatever they saw fit for the renovations because they own the building.
Ms Lawler’s office did not respond to questions over why Gateway was chosen as the site of the new electorate office or if costs had been considered.
The $300,000 fit out cost is on top of the ongoing lease at the relatively new shopping centre, which opened in late 2017.
The NT Independent understands commercial space at the shopping centre for units smaller than Ms Lawler’s office runs roughly $15,000 a month.
The electorate office is off the parking lot and not in a prime retail spot, however the government has not disclosed the cost of the lease.
Cost to fit out youth drop-in centre a fraction of Minister Lawler’s electorate office space
A week after moving into the new electorate office, Ms Lawler issued a press release celebrating the awarding of a contract to fit out a new youth drop-in centre in Palmerston that included constructing “office space, (a) kitchen, arts and craft area, TV and gaming lounge, workstations and external toilets”.
That fit out cost $120,282.
Ms Lawler did not respond to questions over why her electorate office cost more than double the youth drop-in centre.
Ms Lawler, in her role as Infrastructure Minister, has regularly promoted government construction contracts going to local businesses, but did not mention the $300,000 fit out contract to Gateway at any time.
In another March 2020 press release highlighting NT Government “job creating projects” in Palmerston, just days after moving into the new electorate office, Ms Lawler pointed to a number of small upgrades to the community and bigger projects already completed.
“We are listening to our community and delivering the infrastructure and amenities where it matters, like the Palmerston Hospital, Palmerston Police Station and Zuccoli Primary School,” she said.
Although costing taxpayers more than some of the projects listed on the Palmerston improvement list, the electorate office project was not publicly disclosed or celebrated as a positive for the community.
On Wednesday, the Gunner Government announced a total of $200,000 in grants to support the NT’s artists and art organisations.