“While this is a very useful project which has my full support, there is cause for concern when an appropriate government competitive process appears to have been altered to meet the political and electoral results of the parties.” said Dr Pettitt.
“At the heart of interim conventions and good governance, we should separate these processes of government and elections.
“What appears to have happened here disturbingly contravenes that.”
The state called for movie studio proposals through the MLP process in August 2020 and three were shortlisted, including one from Home Fire, a Minderoo Foundation proposal from Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and one from Perth Studios Pty. Ltd, which has ties to the operators of Docklands Studios in Melbourne.
McGowan’s firm picked Home Fire as their preferred promoter before the transition period began on February 3, but FOI documents reveal the department was asked to delay releasing the news.
A Jan. 27 email from the Finance Department chief executive details a push from the Prime Minister’s Office to make the announcement, but it was scuttled two days later when a media adviser to Mr Wyatt told them. said to wait.
The department’s director of strategic communications wrote on January 29 – days before a bushfire started in Woorooloo and Perth was plunged into a COVID-19 lockdown – they were told there would be no no event or media statement prior to the babysitting period due to time constraints.
“The Mins (sic) office wants the information to be posted on the website at 3 p.m. on February 19 and a notification provided to all proposers on the same day,” the email said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance did not respond if he was required to release the news on February 19, but said the decision to go public with the release took several factors into account, including disclosure obligations for developers. , such as ASX announcements.
“All of this is subject to the approval of the MLP steering committee and it was done on February 18,” the spokesperson said.
The finance ministry staff were concerned enough about the interim agreements to seek advice from the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministry on releasing the decision, but ultimately the finance director decided to go ahead. before.
Home Fire was informed on Friday February 19 at 1 p.m. that it had been successful and would be invited to step three of the MLP process to make a final offer following negotiations, while Minderoo and Perth Studios were rejected the same time.
The news was posted at 3 p.m. the same day on the WA government website without any press releases before. appearing online in an “exclusive” story by West Australian at 9 p.m. with comments from Mr. McGowan and paraphrased information from Home Fire.
Negotiations, due diligence and engagement with Fremantle Port for the film studio project were underway this week.
The finance ministry spokeswoman said the ministry was unaware that there would be election announcements after the promoter was released.
“As the MLP secretariat, the finance ministry was not made aware of the election announcements. It was managed independently by the Labor Party, ”she said.
The MLP process typically prevents promoters from speaking in public without the prior written approval of the MLP secretariat, and other emails have revealed that the department takes confidentiality so seriously that it has compelled Fremantle Port staff involved in the process. negotiations to sign bulletproof nondisclosure agreements.
The department spokeswoman said Home Fire’s comments in The west were reviewed and it was determined that it did not present any new information.
But she did not directly respond if the department allowed a Home Fire representative to speak in a Labor campaign announcement on the morning of February 20.
“The MLP secretariat does not consider that there has been a communications breach by Home Fire Creative Industries,” they said.
FOI documents obtained by Today found no Home Fire request for the department to speak at the event.
The MLP process ties Home Fire’s hands with the company unable to comment on the project without permission from the department.
A spokesperson for the company said Today after questions were sent for this story: “All inquiries relating to the film studio proposal and MLP process should be directed to the market-led proposal secretariat.”
Mr McGowan further confused the situation during the announcement when he said “the government” was committing $ 100 million for a new film studio when the money was in fact a Labor campaign pledge.
Titles for some, waiting time for others
The government took a different approach when it announced news of developer Cedar Woods’ proposal for a multi-story property development in the affluent western suburb of Perth, where residents and councils have campaigned against density targets .
This proposal was also approved to move to a stage requiring public disclosure before interim mode.
Cedar Woods was keen to make an ASX announcement as soon as possible, but the news wasn’t made public until March 19 – six days after the election.
Within days of the polls, Planning Minister Rita Saffioti scoffed at suggestions that any announcements would be postponed until after the election, as high-density development in the western suburbs was a politically sensitive issue, highlighting instead guarding agreements in place.
The finance spokeswoman said Cedar Woods’ proposal was different from that of the film studio because it was unsolicited, while the film studio was started by the government as part of its MLP process ” Problem and Opportunity Statement ”, where milestones were set by the government before going to market. .
However, a spokesperson for Mr McGowan said the timeline for release of information for both processes was coordinated by the Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the lead agency, other key stakeholders and was subject to the Ministry of Finance. MLP Steering Committee approval.
Transparency International Australia chief executive Serena Lillywhite is a vocal critic of the market-led proposals, arguing they are susceptible to political manipulation.
“Market-driven proposals allow the private sector to come up with project proposals and the government to solicit proposals from preferred candidates with arguably little oversight and transparency as to how public funds are spent and whether projects are given on merit, in the public interest, and not captured by the undue influence of special interest groups and donors of political parties with rich pockets, ”she said.
But Mr McGowan’s spokesperson said MLPs allow the government to explore good ideas, private sector investment opportunities and entrepreneurship to identify projects that could benefit Western Australians. .
Last month’s budget documents show $ 105 million will be spent from 2021-2022 to 2024-25 on due diligence activities, planning and construction of a film studio and screen production facility. state-of-the-art at Victoria Quay.
The majority of the funding – $ 60 million – is allocated for 2023-24, which is the same fiscal year that the government and the developer initially announced the project would be completed.
There is still $ 20 million for the year 2024-25 in the provisional budget.