Chapter 8, The ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA)

The role of this organisation in this saga is very unclear.

While virtually every paper written for Government ministers refers to ACTPLA opinions, there is not a single such paper from ACTPLA officers themselves, so there are not very many links in this chapter.

There is also only one written query to ACTPLA from other ACT Government officers, and this is an email concerning conflict of interest.  That is, there is no written query to ACTPLA regarding the susbstance of the airfiled proposal.

No ACTPLA officer is ever named.  This letter is typical in that it includes a couple of statements beginning “ACTPLA also believe…” and “ACTPLA also raised…”

There is no statement in any of the ministerial advice referencing ACTPLA that is positive.

A couple of separate FOI enquiries provided only maps and a single piece of advise offered refers to a claim of corruption by ACTPLA officers; more on that later.

On the 15th of January 2007 Mr Chris Price, the proponent of the Williamsdale airfield wrote to the Chief Minister refuting the sort of claims that have been made above by, primarily, Mr van Aalst and Mr Cox.  In this letter he said, inter alia:

"I was aware that there are strong links between the ACT’s rural community – ie- leaseholders and ACTPLA’s leasing division.  Given the number of ACT public servants in the Williamsdale/Smiths Road area, both serving and former, I would be surprised if influence was not applied to stop the proposed airfield."

In reply, Mr Cox includes the following statement:

"In relation to Mr Price’s assertion that ACTPLA officers have personal interests in leases that might form part of the impacted site, and have deliberately obfuscated the consideration process, ACTPLA has advised that there are no current (or past) ACT Government public officers with interests in the leases in question."

That would seem to be fair enough, except for a couple of things.  Mr Price did not limit has suggestion of interest to “the leases in question”, but to the general precinct.

Of course, being a small town, Mr Price had good reason for making this accusation.

It is supported by this curious file note in which officers from ACTPLA leasing proposed moving a powerline easement to transect the proposed airfield site, and suggested that the move be kept confidential.

As an aside, this file note was part of the FOI response from the ACT Government.  It refers to an ACTPLA meeting, but was not received from ACTPLA in response to another FOI.  It is another ACTPLA document that has gone missing from their files.

Further, this lack of any documentation must have come as something of a surprise to Mr Cox, who stated in this email of January 2007 "You will also have to dig out the advices received from ACTPLA....."

When Mr Price made his accusation, the government officer responsible contacted ACTPLA and asked for a response.  The response is here

But where is the evidence of any enquiry to ACTPLA officers about potential conflicts of interest?

We made another FOI enquiry to ACTPLA  in July of 2012 directly asking for evidence of an enquiry on their behalf to establish to truth of this statement made to Government:

“On behalf of the Authority, I reject your assertions without reservation, that the Authority has “acted in a disingenuous manner; officers of the Authority have a conflict of interest in dealing with this matter; and that influence was applied to stop the proposed airfield.””

This FOI produced just one document document in response to this enquiry.  This document shows absolutely no attempt on the part of ACTPLA to determine whether or not there was a conflict of interest.  Mr Neil Savery a senior ACTPLA officer stated in his email reply of the 31st May 2007:

"It is also worth bearing in mind that a conflict of interest is not just an issue of whether an individual has an interest, but whether or not it can be shown that it has clouded their advice or judgement.  Given the filters in ACTPLA, this has not occurred,...."

We have requested details of these filters, but some 3 months have passed without a response.

Mr Savery replied to the request for information about a potential conflict of interest just two days after the request was made and felt confident in stating that there was no conflict of interest, even though according to the documentation he made no effort to find out. 

He also made the astonishing assertion that a conflict of interest was OK if it did not "cloud their advice or judgement".  Clearly in this instance, someone's advice and judgement was clouded.

So, for some 8 years, unnamed ACTPLA officers are claimed by other ACT Government officers to have made the following assertions:

  • Perhaps five blocks might have to be resumed when only one was in question.
  • No public interest case was established, when a very substantial public interest case was made.
  • A powerline easement was to be moved, without any publicity so that it transected the proposed airfield.
  • Neither the NSW RFS or ACT authorities are particularly supportive of Williamsdale and have other better contingencies.  These statements are also completely false.  See this consultant’s report, referred to earlier, and this letter of support from the NSW RFS.

So, here we have an agency whose role in this affair is muddy to say the least.  The agency claimed that it had acted with propriety when questioned, but actually made no attempt to check.

 There will be more on this when we have done some more checking on land titles and leases.


We followed up on ACTPLA's statement written by Gerard Allen, which was included in a brief to the Chief Minister:

"on behalf of the Authority, I reject without reservation, that the Authority has "acted in a disingenuous manner."; officers of the Authority have a conflict of interest in dealing with the matter; and influence was applied to stop the airfield."

We asked for the information on which this statement was made.

Mr Ponton, newly promoted to Director General replied in the formal FOI response:

"The Directorate is unable to locate in its corporate records, a brief to the Chief Minister in relation to this matter and I have no reason to believe the brief you refer to was written by this directorate or the ACT Planning and Land Authority."

This is technically correct.  However ACTPLA supplied the information, as shown in the document referenced above.

Incidentally, the email chain supplying the advice above included Mr Ponton.  That is, Mr Ponton has directly contradicted the contents of an email to which he was CCed.

This has again been referred to the ombudsman as Mr Ponton has refused to supply the information on which such a statement could have been predicated.  

I was told in a phone call from the FOI officer that we would be supplied with both the 2007 government directory and the land title information related to the area around Williamsdale.  While this information is obviously available Mr Ponton reversed this decision in this letter referenced above.  So why did he do that?

Mr Ponton states that some of the information is available but he wants us to pay full commercial rates, and he states that he is not able to access the file for the ACT Government Directory of 2007.  This is clearly rubbish as it would be available on a backup tape.

Further Update

The ACT Ombudsman supported the decision not to supply land title information under FOI.  This is because ACTPLA never supplied the land title information that formed the basis to dismiss a claim of a conflict of interest.  This is a neat little Catch 22.

Following enquiries by the Ombudsman it is possible to conclude that ACTPLA has lost a bundle of it's files.  In a meeting with one of their officers we supplied copies of files that had gone missing.  ACTPLA has no idea of what it might have said to other agencies.  The Director-General, Mr Ponton, while being copied into the email chain realted to this proposal, has no recollection of anything.

They don't really seem to have thier act together.

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