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Why ACC's land deal secrecy serves no public interest

Opinion

For the sake of trust, transparency and ratepayers’ right to know, the Adelaide City Council should now release contract details of the Eighty Eight O’Connell project, writes the developer’s Jamie McClurg.

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Across the western world, trust in democracy and political institutions has deteriorated over the past decade.

This has led to the rise of fake news, alt-right broadcasts and now fears about voice and video manipulation as a political weapon.

Transparency is a fundamental of societal, political and Governmental trust. It is the basis of any healthy relationship.

Government is effectively a management company that is elected to act in the best interests of constituents by the careful spending of monies raised via those constituents. That is true of every level – federal, state and local.

Constituents have a right to know how their taxes and rates are being used.

Last month, Rex Patrick sought to gain access to the ‘Executed Land Facilitation Agreement’ between the Adelaide City Council and Commercial & General for the 88 O’Connell Street site.

Essentially, this is the contract between the Council as the landowner and us as the developer.

Constituents have a right to know how their taxes and rates are being used

Documents of this kind are traditionally withheld from public view on the grounds that they contain information that is commercially sensitive.

In many cases, that is a completely valid argument, particularly when the contract is between private entities and does not involve any public funds, while negotiations are ongoing, or when a project hasn’t yet commenced on site.

With that context, the Council’s decision not to release the document earlier this year was completely appropriate given the timing.

However, now that we have reached financial close and building work is underway, we are choosing to waive our right to object to its release and will support Mr Patrick’s FOI request.

We aren’t doing so just to turn the tired ‘secretive developers’ trope on its head. We think the documents should be released because it is in the public’s interest to do so.

It’s also a matter of trust. As a company, we would not have delivered projects with an end value in excess of $2 billion without having it both as a core value and an inherent behaviour throughout the 25 years of our organisation’s history. And it should exist between a government and its people.

We’re also happy for the contract to be made public because we are confident it will stand up to any fair-minded scrutiny. It recognises the risks each party has been willing to take and enshrines them in writing, binding our two organisations together behind a common intent.

We think the documents should be released because it is in the public’s interest to do so

That intent is now being realised at Eighty Eight O’Connell. Having broken ground a few months ago, the transformation of this long-neglected site is well underway. The council has received its first payments and the leasing and sales activity have been strong.

Right now, we’re working on the foundations – the basis upon which the future will be built. In a few short years, people will be able to see how we’ve made good on our commitment to revitalise a street and rejuvenate a community.

For now, though, they should be able to see our commitment in writing. And we’re happy for them to do so.

Jamie McClurg is Executive Chair of Commercial & General

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