Minister's husband attended official meeting on Manuka bid

Minister's husband attended official meeting on Manuka bid

Labor government minister Meegan Fitzharris has admitted to an official meeting with her husband over the Manuka Oval redevelopment bid, in her capacity as member of the ACT Parliament.

A day after Ms Fitzharris said she had gone to some lengths to avoid a conflict of interest and would remove herself from discussions or deliberations about Manuka, The Canberra Times can reveal her husband, Pierre Huetter, took part in a briefing about the unsolicited bid to Ms Fitzharris and her staff on February 18.

Government minister Meegan Fitzharris and husband Pierre Huetter, pictured in 2011.

Government minister Meegan Fitzharris and husband Pierre Huetter, pictured in 2011.Credit:Lyn Mills

Mr Huetter is a former staffer for Chief Minister Andrew Barr and works for Dowse Projects, which has been employed by the GWS Giants to work on its bid with Grocon to redevelop the oval and build up to 1000 apartments, a hotel, shops and other developments on the site.

In response to questions, a spokeswoman said Ms Fitzharris accepted an offer to all members of the Legislative Assembly for a briefing on the plan as the development is in her electorate, but she said an official from directorate was also present.

An artist's impression of proposed Manuka Oval redevelopment.

An artist's impression of proposed Manuka Oval redevelopment.

"Pierre Huetter from Dowse Projects was present, as well as Grocon and GWS. A representative of the director general of [Territory and Municipal Services] was also present.

"The presentation was about the broad overview of the proposal ... the minister had all the checks and balances in place to ensure it was an appropriate meeting to take. The presentation involved no decision-making nor was the minister asked her opinion."

On Thursday, Ms Fitzharris said she had written to Mr Barr about her husband's work saying she would take "any necessary action to avoid a real or perceived conflict of interest", including removing herself from discussions.

"At this point in time this has not been required," Ms Fitzharris said on Thursday.

A spokesman for Mr Barr said he was not concerned about the meeting.

The admission came after revelations that Mr Huetter and long-time Labor figure David Lamont are involved in the controversial Manuka bid. Mr Lamont also works for Dowse, a company half-owned by Carolyn Lamont, of the same address.

Neither man is on the ACT Lobbyist Register, which says anyone who communicates with a politician, a staffer or a public servant on behalf of a third party should be registered.

Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson confirmed members of his team had also met Mr Lamont, in a briefing with GWS and Grocon in February. Mr Hanson said he had been surprised by Mr Lamont's attendance but had not asked whether he was registered as a lobbyist.

Mr Lamont, a former deputy chief minister, is involved in a number of projects beyond Manuka, including with the University of Canberra and the Australian National University. ANU confirmed that Mr Lamont's Integrated Property Services Group (also half-owned by Carolyn Lamont) is contracted to work on student accommodation building projects. He previously worked on the ANU Exchange project.

But Mr Barr said Mr Lamont didn't fit the definition of a lobbyist.

"If he were lobbying on behalf of others, but not for work he was actually doing, then yes… I think because he's not lobbying on anyone's behalf, he's employed as a project manager, then it's different.

"To the extent that there is a need for further transparency in relation to engagement with government, the unsolicited bids process provides that."

Green Shane Rattenbury said the register was clearly not capturing everyone, and he is pushing for new freedom of information laws which would require ministers' diaries to be made public.

Mr Rattenbury said he had not known of Mr Lamont and Mr Huetter's involvement in the Manuka project before it became public on Friday, but he expressed no particular concerns.

"In a small town like this I come across the same people regularly on a whole range of things," he said. "I judge them on the merits of their case, not who they're connected to."


Mr Hanson said it was "not a good look" to have Labor powerbrokers tied up in the Manuka bid, but he maintained his support for the project coming forward and being given serious consideration.

Ultimately, it would need to be in the community's best interests to get the Liberals' support, he said.

Kirsten Lawson is news director at The Canberra Times

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

Most Viewed in National