Turf Club board stood down over ICAC scandal

July 6, 2021
Grant Jones

All positions on the Darwin Turf Club board will be declared vacant after the NT ICAC made adverse findings against five individuals and Darwin Turf Club Incorporated, over its new $12 million taxpayer-funded grandstand.

Club members have now called for a special general meeting to select a new panel following the NT Government’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s call for the whole board to resign, despite acknowledging not all members were on the board in the period being investigated by the ICAC.

Mr Gunner said six of the nine-person board had relinquished their positions by last Friday. A members’ special meeting is expected to be held at the end of this month.

Darwin Turf Club’s selection panel went on to award the multi-million dollar three-level grandstand construction contract to Jaytex Constructions – a company co-owned by turf club chairman Brett Dixon. 

NT 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 also made the findings against the Chief Minister’s former chief of staff, in addition to 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.

Mr Dixon has already sent a letter to club members advising he is taking a leave of absence adding the ICAC investigation was “biased” and evidence he provided “was totally ignored”.

“Over the last 18 months the investigation and the recent ICAC report has devastated me, and my mental and physical condition has deteriorated to a point where I feel unable to function at my best,” Mr Dixon said.

“This has distressed me beyond compare, but please be assured that everything I have done at the Darwin Turf Club … has been sincere and in the best interests of the club and the racing industry in Northern Territory over the last 19 years.

“This whole saga has affected my family and I require time to support them as well.”

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. 

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) 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.  

“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. 


Tags

board resignations, Fannie Bay racecourse, government funding, ICAC


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