SARAH-JANE COLLINSApril 30, 2010
PLANNING Minister Justin Madden has fuelled fresh speculation about his role in the Windsor Hotel affair, repeatedly refusing to say if he was aware of a scheme to pervert the planning process for the hotel’s redevelopment.
Under questioning yesterday, Mr Madden three times declined to say if he had prior knowledge of a strategy to run a bogus public consultation process as a precursor to rejecting the developer’s proposal.
The controversial strategy came to light when a memo written by Mr Madden’s media adviser, Peta Duke, was accidentally emailed to the media.
The government has insisted that the email was Ms Duke’s work alone, but is refusing to allow her and other media advisers to give evidence to a parliamentary committee that is investigating the affair.
The head of the Premier’s media unit, George Svigos, media adviser Fiona Macrae and Mr Madden’s chief of staff, Justin Jarvis, all failed to appear at a hearing yesterday after being summonsed by the committee. The hearing was cancelled.
Premier John Brumby backed Attorney-General Rob Hulls’ directive to the ministerial staff to ignore their summonses.
”[The committee] is entitled to interview people under oath and that’s the best way to resolve these matters … but it’s never been the practice that parliamentary staffers appear,” he said.
Responding to allegations aired in The Age this week that the sham process was discussed among senior government figures, Mr Brumby said the allegations were anonymous and unfounded and anyone with evidence should come forward.
”Any others who have information, including any journalists who have information, [should] make themselves available to be interviewed under oath,” he said.
When Mr Madden was asked yesterday if he had prior knowledge of the sham strategy, he said he ”had no knowledge of that email until it surfaced”.
Journalist: ”Did you have knowledge of the strategy though?”
Mr Madden: ”All that is important here is that ultimately I am the relevant decision maker as the relevant authority in relation to the project and I’ve made that decision. And if people feel strongly about that, they have the right to appeal.”
Journalist: ”Had the strategy been flagged with you?”
Mr Madden: ”Look, I could go over and over this material again and again. On the public record I’ve made my comments and I stand by those comments. It was not my document. I was not part of that strategy, I did not see that document and as such I did not form the basis of that document.”
Mr Madden approved the redevelopment plan weeks after the Duke memo came to light.
Opposition planning spokesman Matthew Guy said yesterday he would move a motion calling for the government architect to front the inquiry after a report in The Age yesterday that the architect’s office may have been involved in formulating the sham consultation process. Other options could include the upper house calling the staff members to appear before Parliament.
State Opposition leader Ted Baillieu said the staff members should be prepared for Parliament to punish them for not appearing. ”It is perfectly reasonable for the committee and the upper house to conclude that these individuals should be disciplined,” he said.