The Gunner Government has had difficulty explaining why it spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on the State Square redevelopment project before a proper business case was in place, with Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler suggesting the reason was “broader than just the dollars”.
The NT Independent revealed on Thursday the government had only awarded a tender to Deloitte to develop a business case for its $100 million State Square redevelopment project last week, three years after first pledging the project and more than a year after spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to progress works on the site.
In a press conference on Thursday, Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler had trouble explaining why the works would start, and millions spent, before a business case was developed.
“It’s broader than just the dollars, this is about the greatness … yeah, so this is about the benefit for the people of the Top End to have a beautiful area there that they can all enjoy,” she told Channel Nine Darwin.
Before developing a business case for its “critical” State Square project, the government paid $1.5 million to demolish the Chan Building, built a $20 million underground carpark, paid for a $500,000 “masterplan”, and awarded tenders to contractors for a variety of associated works since 2018.
Not the first time the government has been questioned about unchecked spending without a plan
The Gunner Government has come under criticism for its unplanned spending before, most notably in the Budget Repair Report produced by former WA under-treasurer John Langoulant, who found consecutive NT governments routinely approved spending for projects with little oversight and no procedures in place to assess value for money.
The tender for the State Square business case was awarded last week to Deloitte through a select tender process, rather than a public process, for $265,000.
The business plan for the State Square project will also include developing a case for the new proposed Art Gallery at the site of the old Chan Building.
For reasons never explained, the government put the tender for that $50 million project out in late April – around the same time it was seeking proposals for the business plan.
The State Square redevelopment is a major plank of the $200 million Darwin City Deal that will see the NT Government develop the State Square precinct and surrounding areas, while the Federal Government has committed $100 million to help develop a new “education and civic precinct” that will include the new Charles Darwin University CBD campus.
Lack of business case ‘not normal in the business world’: Senator Sam McMahon
NT CLP Senator Sam McMahon slammed the Gunner Government for failing to produce a business case for its State Square redevelopment project before starting works.
“I’m astounded they are just now commissioning a business case when they are already building the project,” Ms McMahon told the NT Independent.
“It’s certainly not acceptable. It’s not normal in the business world; you don’t get halfway through a project and then decide to plan for it.
“We know Labor can’t manage a budget, but until Territorians vote him out, he should show them a glimpse of the open and transparent government he promised them that he has failed to deliver.”
Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s office did not respond to the NT Independent’s questions over its handling of the project.
Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge’s office said the NT Government has responsibility of the State Square redevelopment project and that the federal portion of the City Deal money will not be used for that.
“The commitments for the redevelopment of State Square are fully funded by the NT Government,” spokesman Mike Bennett said.
It’s understood CDU is currently producing a business case of its own for the new city campus project.