New inquiry to probe former LDA's rural land purchases
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New inquiry to probe former LDA's rural land purchases

An ACT Legislative Assembly committee has launched an inquiry into an audit of the former Land Development Agency's purchases of nine farms across Canberra's western fringe, with hearings beginning next week.

The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee has decided to hold the inquiry into the lengthy audit report and the latest revelations of poor documentation of the now-defunct LDA's land deals and lack of probity in its dealings.

Canberra Liberals MLA Vicki Dunne is chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee that will examine the rural land audit.

Canberra Liberals MLA Vicki Dunne is chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee that will examine the rural land audit.

Photo: Fairfax Media

The committee now has three inquiries underway into the controversial dealings of the former agency, covering the series of rural land purchases; the Dickson land swap with the Tradies Club; and the deals at Glebe Park and on the shores of Lake Burley-Griffin.

While the government abolished the former agency, splitting its roles into two new bodies, the Suburban Land Agency and City Renewal Authority, the dealings of the old agency have become a running political sore for the government.

Both the Liberal opposition and the Greens have said the Dickson land swap in particular was worthy of further investigation by the proposed ACT anti-corruption commission, once it is up and running. It is expected to begin operating next year.

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The committee has scheduled its first public hearing on the rural land audit, with ACT Auditor-General Dr Maxine Cooper and audit staff expected to give evidence next Wednesday at the Assembly.

Dr Cooper has previously been highly critical of the former agency's deals, saying of the city to the lake and Glebe Park deals, its systems were so "loose" it allowed potential opportunities for fraud, and the lack of documentation of the Dickson land swap meant she was unable to rule "criminality" in or out.

Among the issues highlighted in the audit were a lack of "probity" across the farm land purchases, a lack of documentation of the deals and management of contracts, as well as potential conflicts of interest related to the purchase of Fairvale and management of Huntly.

Opposition leader Alistair Coe said the government's rural land purchases, and Chief Minister Andrew Barr's approval to buy Milapuru at $3 million above "fair value" needed scrutiny.

He said Canberra needed an anti-corruption commission to examine "the rural leases purchases, and many other controversial deals".

Mr Coe said the Liberals had already presented the Assembly with legislation to create the proposed anti-corruption commission, which he hoped the Assembly would support.

But both the Opposition's bill, and the government's proposed bill, which is yet to be revealed, will be referred back to the original select committee that examined the issue and made recommendations about its proposed scope and operations.

That inquiry is underway, though it has not yet held any public hearings, as it is still waiting on the government's bill, which is expected to be tabled later this year.