Infrastructure Department officials only told minister Paul Fletcher the $30 million price tag for a dairy paddock near the Western Sydney Airport was based on it being valued as industrial land after the Commonwealth had bought the property.
An earlier brief to the minister about the purchase of the land known as the Leppington Triangle emphasised the landholders’ unwillingness to sell and the fact it was a “sophisticated and well-resourced entity” with a history of litigation.
The federal government bought 12 hectares of land dubbed the Leppington Triangle, near Badgery’s Creek, for $32.8 million in 2018.Credit:Wolter Peeters
“Seems perfectly sensible to me,” Mr Fletcher wrote on the briefing sent to him on 29 January 2018, outlining the department’s intention to go ahead with the purchase.
The Leppington Triangle deal was the subject of a damning audit, released last September, after the Auditor-General’s office discovered the $30 million land was valued at just $3 million less than a year after taxpayers bought it. The second valuation informed the leasing of the land back to its original owners.
The Auditor-General referred the deal to the Australian Federal Police last July out of concern “the Commonwealth may have been defrauded”. One of the officers has been stood aside while under investigation for potential breaches of the public service code of conduct relating to the deal, although an independent review of the deal commissioned by the department cleared it of integrity problems.
The federal government handed the Senate ten departmental briefings about the land deal late on Tuesday. They give a picture of protracted negotiations with Leppington Pastoral Company, owned by billionaire brothers Tony and Ron Perich, over the 13.6 hectare piece of land.
“The Perich family, which own LPC, is a sophisticated and well-resourced entity. It has extensive experience in the purchase and disposal of land in Western Sydney … it has access to substantial resources including legal and property advisors,” stated the first briefing to Mr Fletcher, which was also sent to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
“LPC was initially unwilling to sell but we have recently made encouraging process towards a possible sale.”
It went on to note then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had singled out Mark Perich, Tony’s son, who is in charge of the family’s property development company, at the launch of the Western Sydney city deal. It also outlined LPC’s history of drawn-out litigation against compulsory acquisition of its land.
Tony Perich and his son Mark on the dairy farm of family’s Leppington Pastoral Company.Credit:James Brickwood
Opposition infrastructure spokeswoman Catherine King said the brief did not offer any explanation about the goodwill or why the $30 million price was reasonable.
“It is extraordinary that any minister could read this brief and conclude that it ‘seems
perfectly sensible to me’,” she said.
“Hinting at the resulting scandal and attempted cover-up, the brief notes the potential
public interest in the purchase and offers the minister talking points with which to
explain the high price.”
In a second briefing to Mr Fletcher, on August 2, 2018, after the sale had gone through, the department again emphasised LPC’s reluctance.
The company knew the land would be needed for the airport’s second runway but did not want to sell at that time, in part because “the land would be more valuable in the future”, the briefing says.
The Auditor-General’s report criticised the department’s process for valuing the land as not appropriate and done in a way that inflated the land’s value.
The August briefing to Mr Fletcher says, “[Valuers] MJD valued the land on the basis that it was ‘industrial’ even though, as it stood, the land was zoned ‘agricultural’. In this way, the future value of any re-zoning of the land could be assessed in the present, effectively removing LPC’s first reason for not selling.”
The briefings repeatedly mention the $30 million valuation and the fact the price would be this less an amount the NSW government paid for its portion of the land, but none state an exact final figure.
Six of the briefings are classified “sensitive: cabinet” despite only two of them going to the minister.
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