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Australia NSW transport agency thrown into chaos amid chief's exit, ICAC referral

23:40  18 november  2020
23:40  18 november  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

NSW Government bought land for three times its value for light rail project

  NSW Government bought land for three times its value for light rail project A major land deal is under scrutiny after the New South Wales Government paid three times its value in an urgent "out of session" meeting.The cost of the land and remediation of the contaminated site is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $100 million.

NSW ’ s transport agency was in chaos on Wednesday night after the sudden resignation of its chief and the referral of the department to the anti- corruption watchdog about a toxic land deal in Parramatta. The NSW upper house also voted in favour of referring it to ICAC .

Labor wants to refer the NSW government' s .5 million purchase of contaminated land that delivered its previous owners a million profit to the Independent Labor finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey will on Tuesday introduce a motion in the upper house to refer the acquisition to ICAC , after

Rodd Staples © AAP Rodd Staples

NSW's transport agency was in chaos on Wednesday night after the sudden resignation of its chief and the referral of the department to the anti-corruption watchdog about a toxic land deal in Parramatta.

Transport for NSW secretary Rodd Staples told staff in an email on Wednesday afternoon that he knew the news of his departure would come as a surprise and that he had "mixed emotions" about the decision. He gave no explanation for his departure.

It comes two days after revelations by the Herald that the NSW government paid three times as much as the Valuer-General's estimate for a parcel of highly contaminated land in Camellia that earned Sydney property developer Billbergia a $15 million windfall in a matter of months.

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NSW Labor finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey said remediation of the land could cost taxpayers anywhere from $100 million to $700 million.

Following the revelations, Transport Minister Andrew Constance referred the toxic land deal to both the Auditor General and the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The NSW upper house also voted in favour of referring it to ICAC.

In announcing Mr Staples' departure, Mr Constance said "now is the time for a new focus on delivering our record infrastructure program".

His exit comes a day after the state budget in which the government set aside billions of dollars for transport projects, including metro rail lines of which Mr Staples was regarded to be a key architect.

The state budget all but confirmed that the government has abandoned stage two of the Paramatta light rail line. Questions were also raised about the proposed Northern Beaches Link after it received no mention in Tuesday's budget.

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Mr Staples took over from Tim Reardon - now head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet - as Transport for NSW secretary at the start of 2018 but has worked in the department for 15 years.

Mr Staples was head of the Sydney Metro rail projects at the time of the controversial land deal involving 6 Grand Avenue, Camellia. He also sat on Transport for NSW's executive committee, which met on Mondays to discuss matters including transactions such as the Camellia land purchase.

At the time, Mr Reardon was chair of Transport for NSW's Finance and Investment Committee, which held an "out of session" to approve the acquisition of the Camellia site for $53.5 million, as well as pay the costs of remediating the land.

Opposition transport spokesman Chris Minns said Mr Constance needed to make clear why Mr Staples had resigned.

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"The Department of Transport is in utter chaos this afternoon. The secretary has left one day after the NSW budget has been handed down, we've got cancelled projects and a secret land deal that should be the subject of an ICAC inquiry," he said.

Labor leader Jodi McKay said Mr Staples' exit was "swift and not planned".

Mr Constance said the announcement about Mr Staples' departure was "separate from the issues" concerning the Camellia land deal.

The government opposed Labor's moves in the lower house on Wednesday night to refer the land deal to ICAC.

Mr Constance also met the state's Auditor-General this week to discuss a separate review he ordered of Transport for NSW's purchase of the Camellia site. That review will include the purchase and costs of remediation at the property next to Rosehill Racecourse.

In an email to staff, Mr Staples said he was sad to say goodbye.

"Transport is in my blood and is part of my family's story, with my grandfather helping to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now almost 100 years later, I've had the privilege of being part of this great organisation for over 15 years," he said.

Mr Staples said he would work through the transition arrangements over the coming months.

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