In her article of January 5th, 2021 published nationally on the MichaelWest network titled "In too deep: when Gladys’ and John’s rorts go wrong" journalist Elizabeth Minter has placed a spotlight on the rorts around the Mackay Park project in Batemans Bay. Leading into her very telling article Liz Minter says: "Gladys Berejiklian’s defence of pork barrelling will hardly enthuse ratepayers in Batemans Bay, or taxpayers for that matter. The local government debacle over a leisure centre, which got the tick from Deputy Premier John Barilaro in dubious circumstances, is the quintessential object lesson in why governments should do their homework before they start throwing money around for political reasons." While the article initially reveals the pork barrelling by both State and Federal Governments around the project Ms Minter delves deeper into the role that Eurobodalla Council is playing Ms Minter writes of Eurobodalla Council : No comprehensive business case
As a prerequisite of the funding, the project was required to submit a full business case. Yet a comprehensive business case has never been released. When the Eurobodalla Shire Council finally released the application, after blocking its release three times, it showed that the Council had submitted a consultant’s draft business case containing a clear rider that the consultant’s report should not be used for grant funding application.
The so-called “business case” projected operating cost over-runs. Yet the assessment criteria for the Regional Cultural Fund grant required evidence that an “appropriate analysis has been undertaken (i.e. a financial and/or economic appraisal), and the ongoing feasibility is shown to be viable“.
Eurobodalla Council continued to fight attempts by ratepayers to scrutinise the planning assumptions and costings of the project under “commercial confidentiality”, even after the tender for construction had been completed and the project was under way.
The Eurobodalla Council’s own Audit, Risk & Improvement Committee has never been provided with financial details of the project on the grounds of “commercial in confidence”.
Furthermore, Eurobodalla Council has not fulfilled its statutory project financial reporting obligations regarding the project to the Office of Local Government. The Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, holds the neighbouring electorate of South Coast.
An “evacuation centre” capability was later added to the Leisure Centre’s long list of functions. However, this “instant” evacuation centre is on flood-prone land, with limited access and egress according to experts. Eurobodalla Council has acknowledged that adding the evacuation functionality was driven by the need to obtain further funding from grants.
Then for reasons again not made public, the council decided not to include the bowling club site into the footprint of the leisure centre. This meant all the arts and aquatic facilities had to be squashed into half the space. So now the proposal only has a 25-metre pool, a much reduced auditorium (500 seats down to 350), no space for future expansion and the loss of the 50-metre outdoor pool. Furthermore, the smaller theatrette means it is not economic to have travelling productions, further reducing the capacity of the centre to pay its bills. And the “art gallery” that was originally included in the concept plan has been reduced to hanging space in the foyer. You can read the full article by Elizabeth Minter HERE
The article, In too deep: when Gladys’ and John’s rorts go wrong by Elizabeth Minter | Jan 5, 2021, adds weight to the growing concerns around the project, how it came to be funded, the way it was managed by way of questionable processes and the revelations that it will be a considerable ongoing financial burden to a community already in fiscal plight. To be published in MichaelWestMedia is a further blow as the article is endorsed by a highly reputable editor. Michael West was a commentator with The Australian for eight years and another eight years with the Sydney Morning Herald as a journalist and editor. Michael founded his website to focus on journalism of high public interest. West is a Walkley-award winner and Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. The Beagle has been following this project from its start and reporting on the many concerns it holds in regards to finances and processes. You can read the full history with associated articles HERE. It has been an ongoing disappointment that other local media have not taken up the gauntlet to do their own investigations and reporting into the rorts, the manipulations, the lies and the subterfuge that is, and will be, The Mackay Park project. Thank you to Elizabeth Minter and to Michael West Media for bringing this local issue to National attention.