Herald-Sun | 8 November 2013
The Yarra Ranges Shire Council was given a $100,000 grant in July to look into options for how the former Swinburne University site in Lilydale could be used for education purposes. But before the council was handed the cash it had announced it wanted to use part of the site to house its new municipal offices.
A complaint was made to the Victorian Ombudsman about a potential conflict of interest over the site’s use – namely, “the council has a conflict of interest in being the custodian of this process given its interest to use the site for council offices rather than education purposes” which the Ombudsman has decided to examine.
The complaint triggered a clause in the funding agreement between the council and state government which states the council has to notify the state government when it becomes aware of an “actual or perceived conflict of interest”.But the council had already spent $30,000 before the clause was triggered by the Ombudsman’s inquiry.
The grant has been suspended (not actually rescinded) not because of a conflict of interest but because of the Ombudsman’s inquiry into a complaint of conflict of intersest.
Deputy opposition leader James Merlino criticised the minister for higher education, Peter Hall, for green-lighting the grant when there was a conflict of interest.
The minister signed off on a contract with a clear ‘conflict of interest’ clause, which the council ultimately accepted – why was the contract signed off in the first place? Both parties have failed miserably. This is a great result to stop the campus facilities from being turned into office space, but the fact is the gates are locked and the buildings are sitting idle and the Napthine Government has no plan to change this.
But Hall refuses to accept thereis a conflict of interest at the council and said Labor iss playing politics.
It is this action by Labor that prevents any further work to attract tertiary education providers to Lilydale. The money was provided to facilitate and ensure education remains at the site. By referring this to the Ombudsman, Labor is simply standing in the way and preventing the Government from supporting work that needs to be done.
It’s not entirely clear that this is either a bungle or a waste of money: it depends on what the Ombudsman finds.