30 January 2016
by Lucille Keen
Corruption threat stalls Melbourne port sale
Victoria's sale of the Port of Melbourne has hit another stumbling block with the Opposition now claiming that the political negotiations over the sale could be deemed to be corrupt under new anti-corruption legislation.
The Opposition says new powers to be granted to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission could make negotiations over government bills the subject of a malicious complaint in the future.
Legislation for the long term lease of the port has been delayed in the Upper House, where the government is in the minority and needs the support of the Coalition to pass any sale legislation. Bidders say this would affect the sale price.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said the government would look to sell the port regardless of legislation and gave the opposition until the last sitting week in December to reach a deal.
However, an agreement was not reached and the process was extended so negotiations could continue this month with the government hoping an outcome would be achieved before parliament resumes on February 9.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said he had received advice that political negotiations could be seen as corrupt behaviour with the changes to the IBAC legislation. He said the negotiations over the port would now have to occur in writing.
"[The changes] say very, very clearly that political horse-trading, political discussions, could be the subject of future IBAC investigation," Mr Guy said.
"And as a consequence I want everything to be in writing, every piece of offer, discussion, negotiation with the government must now be in writing."
A government spokesman brushed off concerns that the IBAC reforms would prevent good faith discussions about legislation. "The Port of Melbourne lease transaction has been and continues to be subject to a strict probity oversight framework and an independent probity adviser," the spokesman said.
The port sale is expected to reap $6 billion, which the government has allocated to use for it's level crossing removal program.
Potential bidders for the asset, the last major port for sale on the eastern seaboard, include infrastructure giants Hastings Funds Management, IFM Investors, QIC Ltd and partners, The Australian Financial Review's Street Talk column previously reported.