The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has uncovered major misconduct regarding a $12 million grant for a facility at Darwin’s Fannie Bay racecourse, approved by the NT government in 2019 without the proper assessment.
The turf club’s selection panel went on to award a multi-million dollar three-level grandstand construction contract to Jaytex Constructions – a company co-owned by club chairman Brett Dixon.
ICAC Commissioner Ken Fleming’s report stated multiple findings of “improper conduct” and said the turf club’s grant application for the grandstand should have been assessed under the government’s market-led proposal [MLP] policy.
Commissioner Fleming made the findings against the Chief Minister’s former chief of staff, three members of the Darwin Turf Club and a company director over the grant for a new grandstand.
Commissioner Fleming said the turf club’s funding application contained “bare assertions” and non-factual information.
“The barest is the claim for a grant of $12 million as being the cost of construction,” the report said. “There is no basis contained in the submission for that figure. None existed.”
No necessary documentation for assessment was provided by the turf club, until the day before cabinet met, despite repeated requests by “conscientious departmental staff” to supply details.
On that day, the Chief Minister’s then-chief of staff, Alf Leonardi, wrote to turf club chairman Brett Dixon saying the documents were “urgent”.
The grant application was signed by Mr Dixon and written by the Darwin Turf Club CEO Keith Stacy and was sent that afternoon to the Department of Business, Trade and Innovation’s chief executive.
He said the actions of Darwin Turf Club chair Brett Dixon may be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration of criminal charges.
“It is important to note that the application was never considered under, or analysed against, the criteria of the [MLP] policy,” the ICAC report states.
Commissioner Fleming also found the business case was “ill-founded and spurious” and made “unverified” claims about how many people would attend turf club events at the new venue.
“Other claims in the balance of the submission, such as the proposition that, when constructed, it would employ 100 people (which would have roughly tripled DTC’s employees) are fantastic and false.”
Michael Gunner says Cabinet did not know the proposal hadn’t been rigorously tested and said Cabinet was not aware of the shortfalls in the submission when it approved the grant.
“The market-led proposal process was subverted and it led to bad and incomplete information coming to the Cabinet room and Cabinet making the decision it would not have made if it had all the information that should have been made available to it,” he said.
As part of changes being implemented to deal with the ICAC’s findings, Mr Gunner said ministers would have monthly briefings on any market-led proposals.
The NT government would also seek to recover the $12 million grant through reduced funding and called on the turf club board to resign so an administrator could be appointed.