ACT Labor in light rail donations mess

ACT Labor in light rail donations mess

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell has defended the bidding process for the government's light rail project, after the ACT Labor Party refunded a political donation from a company involved in one of the shortlisted consortiums.

Mr Corbell went to ground on Wednesday amid reports Plenary Group, a key firm in the Activate consortium, had made two donations equalling $2100 in May. The company was blocked from attending a pre-budget business seminar with Mr Corbell and had its money refunded.

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell says the public can have confidence in the light rail bidding process.

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell says the public can have confidence in the light rail bidding process.Credit:Jay Cronan

The donations, listed in reports from the Electoral Commission on Monday, come after a total of six donations worth $12,440 to Labor Party at federal and territory levels over the past four years.

Plenary has not donated to the Canberra Liberals or to the ACT Greens.


Unavailable for an interview, Mr Corbell addressed a closed-door boardroom lunch speaking about Canberra's "light rail future". Media were blocked from attending the event held at consulting firm Ernst and Young.

The government received bids for the $783 million project from the two consortiums on Friday.

Mr Corbell said his office told ACT Labor officials he could not attend an event with companies bidding for the project because of probity reasons.

"I understand that one of the events had not been invoiced for and no payment was received, the other they had already paid for and a refund was given," he said in a statement.

"I became aware of Plenary's planned attendance at the first of these fundraising event when I was shown the guest list prior to the event. On being made aware of their planned involvement my office made it clear to ACT Labor that Plenary's attendance would be inappropriate."

Mr Corbell said the donation would have no impact on the bidding process and he had not spoken to officials at the Capital Metro Agency or the Labor Party about the matter. He said he was satisfied the public could have confidence in the bidding process.

A Plenary Group spokesman said the company had acted properly.

ACT Labor Party secretary Matt Byrne said reports to Elections ACT and the Australian Electoral Commission had included mistakes.

A $7500 donation listed as having been received by the ACT Party was a "typo" and had instead been given to the party's national branch.

"Of the donations that they made in this financial year, one was actually an error on our part in sending them an invoice that was incorrect which they went and paid," Mr Byrne said.

"What happened was we sent them the wrong invoice first and they paid that and when we realised we sent them a corrected one. We actually didn't receive any money.

"It was a clerical or administrative error at the start and when the minister said he would rather Plenary didn't attend the function, we refunded them the correct amount then."

Mr Bryne said Labor had not kept any money from the company and had no received donations from any other company involved in light rail consortiums.

"I think the party has handled this appropriately. People and organisations in the community are within their rights to make donations or contribute to political parties that they support," he said.

On Monday, the latest donations report showed ACT Labor had continued its fundraising dominance and collected more cash than the Liberals and Greens combined last financial year. Labor cash donations were $289,088, according to the latest report.

Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe called on the government to outline what interaction cabinet members have had with consortium members and all repayments made for fundraising.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for The Australian Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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