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Silence on Gillman as "drop dead" date looms

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The Weatherill Government remains coy about its disastrous Gillman land deal ahead of tomorrow’s D-Day, with the consortium controversially handed the deeds to the site given until 5pm to pay up or pull out.

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Neither the Government nor Adelaide Capital Partners will comment on the fate of the troubled sale, with the office of Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan saying only that it “is not speculating on what may or may not happen after 1 November”.

Questions about whether ACP’s initial payment of $45 million had yet been received – or whether the consortium had given any indication about its intention to pay – were not answered.

ACP’s chief executive Andrew Gerlach did not return calls from InDaily today.

The deal has been a disaster for Labor since it agreed to sell the land to ACP shortly before the 2014 election without going to tender.

Premier Jay Weatherill and others have since claimed that the $120 million sale had netted a premium price given there were no other interested buyers – but both points have since been debunked.

The process has been roundly criticised by successive inquiries, with a scathing Supreme Court critique and an investigation by anti-corruption commissioner Bruce Lander deeming the administration of the deal by former Renewal SA chief Fred Hansen constituted “maladministration”.

The Government announced in April – when it agreed to pay more than $2 million in court costs in a settlement with prospective tenderer Veolia/Acquista Investments (which trades as Integrated Waste Services) – that November 1 would be the “definite drop-dead date” for ACP’s initial payment.

Attorney-General John Rau, as then-acting Premier, said at the time that “we either have a payment received on or by that date or we don’t… and if that money is not paid on or by the 1st of November then the arrangement between ACP and the Government will dissolve”.

There is no indication the payment has yet been received.

Rau said in April that if the deal fell over “we would put the land out and invite anybody who has an interest in the land to make whatever offer they might care to make”.

Last week, Weatherill dodged questions on the matter in an interview on ABC 891, when he said “we’ll find out what happens on that day”.

“It’s tough for ACP… it wouldn’t surprise me if it falls over,” he said.

“I mean, everybody’s been running around saying this is the deal of the century but we’ll see, won’t we?

Business SA chief Nigel McBride told InDaily if the deal does fall over and the process went back to square one “hopefully there’ll be transparency and public confidence in the outcome”.

“Our position was always that the consortium had every right to go with a unilateral bid to Government, but it did bring a spotlight on the process… it was something that obviously created a lot of angst in the business community,” he said.

“We have no problem with unilateral bids, but we need to make sure there’s public confidence when they are put to Government and there’s a level playing field.”

Even if the sale does proceed, it’s unclear exactly what the land will be used for, with Rau conceding it would certainly involve the site being utilised as landfill, and conceding that the oft-spruiked – but scantily-detailed – “oil and gas hub” was by no means guaranteed.

“Clearly the Government was never in a position to warranty such a thing would occur,” he acknowledged.

Regardless of whether or not the sale proceeds, the timing of the November 1 deadline is interesting given the Government’s move on the weekend to roll out its marquee announcement about the future of the Old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, via a round of media drops and weekend press conferences – standard practice when the Government wants to attract maximum publicity with a minimum of scrutiny.

The ORAH site will include around two hectares returned to the Botanic Gardens, with a “University and Innovation Quarter”, as well as private hotels and residences.

Concepts for the old RAH site released by the Government on the weekend.

Concepts for the old RAH site released by the Government on the weekend.

Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said it was “time for Mr Weatherill to come clean on whether his land deal is going ahead”.

“Three years ago Mr Weatherill said he would create 6000 new jobs at Gillman and since that time not one single job has been created by his deal,” he said.

“How can South Australians trust Mr Weatherill to undertake a complex redevelopment of the current Royal Adelaide Hospital site when he couldn’t even sell a vacant piece of industrial land without an ICAC investigation and High Court action?”

Gerlach said in a statement in April that with litigation settled “ACP can move to finalise planning approvals for the first stage of its master-planned development of the Gillman site and complete financing agreements with investors”.

“It paves the way for a practical start on a major piece of industrial infrastructure that has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefit to the South Australian economy for decades to come,” he said at the time.

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