Leaked memo overlooked in Windsor report ‘whitewash’

SARAH-JANE COLLINS

April 7, 2010

    Justin Madden announces the approval of the controversial Windsor Hotel redevelopment.

    Justin Madden announces the approval of the controversial Windsor Hotel redevelopment. Photo: Paul Rovere

    INDEPENDENT auditors investigating the approval process for the Windsor hotel redevelopment did not look into the leaked media plan at the centre of the hotel scandal, according to the company responsible for the report.

    Stephen Marks, director of probity services for RSM Bird Cameron, was called in to examine the approval process after details of Planning Minister Justin Madden’s media adviser Peta Duke’s memo were accidentally leaked to the media.

    The memo outlined a sham public consultation process that would end with the planning application being rejected.

    After it was leaked, Mr Madden promised a probity auditor would look into the integrity of the decision-making process.

    Last month Mr Madden approved the redevelopment and released Mr Marks’ report, along with a second report from PricewaterhouseCoopers. He said the reports showed proper process had been followed.

    But Mr Marks told an upper house inquiry yesterday that he never looked into the memo.

    He said he did not conduct a probity audit, but rather provided probity advice.

    ”What we undertook was a review of the brief that went to the minister,” Mr Marks said. ”We didn’t go back and look at anything that occurred prior to that.”

    Greens MP Greg Barber asked: ”So there was a cloud put over the decision making … and you never straight up asked [the department] if they had a ministerial adviser on the phone suggesting that we want this to go a certain way?”

    ”It wasn’t part of my brief,” Mr Marks replied.

    Jason Agnoletto from PricewaterhouseCoopers said his firm had also looked into the decision-making process, but not Ms Duke’s memo. ”We did not consider controls and processes performed by the Minister for Planning’s office,” he said.

    Outside the hearing, Mr Barber said the probity process was ”a big whitewash” that reinforced the need for the inquiry to hear from Ms Duke about how the memo was drafted.

    Ms Duke has twice been subpoenaed to appear at the inquiry, but has not turned up on advice from Attorney-General Rob Hulls.

    Mr Hulls says it is against parliamentary convention for ministerial advisers to appear at committee hearings. Yesterday he again said that no staffers would front the inquiry.

    ”It’s not going to happen,” Mr Hulls said. ”What we have is an all-male committee wanting to drag a young female worker before a committee for nothing more than grubby political purposes. They want to bully this woman.”

    But Mr Barber said the upper house would now have to consider how to deal with Ms Duke’s failure to appear. ”If the Attorney-General is suggesting that the law doesn’t apply to a select group of his people then we have a real problem,” he said.

     

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