ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has rejected any conspiracy theories that he was directly involved in the government's controversial Dickson land swap deal with the Tradies Club.
Mr Barr made the comments during a hearing of a Legislative Assembly committee inquiry on Friday into an Auditor-General's report that found the government relinquished up to $2.65 million in value to the CFMEU-linked club in the December 2014 deal.
Despite evidence from public servants involved that the Labor government wanted the club to win the tender, he told the inquiry any conspiracy theories were just that, and if true, the government could have simply sold the land to the club directly, rather than undertaken a tender process.
His evidence also came as former Land Development Agency deputy chief executive Dan Stewart also claimed he had little to no knowledge of the deal negotiated over a two-year period from late 2012 to December 2014.
A number of Mr Stewart's former colleagues had previously told the committee they believed Mr Stewart had taken carriage of the negotiation after former executive Greg Ellis had left the agency, despite Mr Stewart claiming that was not the case.
In a somewhat heated committee hearing on Friday, Mr Barr rejected claims he, or his office, was barely involved in the deal, saying his office may have received infrequent updates; but not weekly, despite Mr Ellis' evidence he received up to weekly calls from a staff member in Mr Barr's office.
The audit report shows the club had applied twice for a direct purchase of the government-owned carpark outside the club in 2010-11, but Cabinet opted for a tender process, which the club ultimately won, negotiating a final deal on significantly changed terms.
Mr Barr is now Chief Minister, and at the time was Treasurer, with carriage of issues such as significant land sales, though he told the committee that apart from the Cabinet decision to sell the carpark via a tender, and notification of the eventual sale, he was not kept abreast of events.
The audit office found no direct involvement of ministers in the process, and Mr Barr and others in government have repeatedly denied any such involvement, pointing to the process for managing such tenders, which is usually run by the public service.
Mr Barr told the committee he would have been in a lot of trouble had he intervened in the process, and that was why he had no involvement, as it would have been inappropriate.
While others involved including Mr Ellis have pointed to a perception the government wanted the CFMEU-linked club to win the tender, none have claimed any overt interference by politicians, including Mr Barr, to that end.
Former LDA and Economic Development Directorate deputy, Mr Stewart, also gave evidence, though committee chairwoman, Opposition frontbencher Vicki Dunne, made it clear he was not appearing at his own will.
Despite Mr Ellis, former LDA contractor Richard Drummond and others intimating Mr Stewart was a key negotiator involved in the deal from 2013 to when the deal was sealed in December 2014, Mr Stewart denied any such involvement.
He said he was present at just one meetings between the government and the club, and while he took no notes, he referred to the ACT Government Solicitor's office if the committee wanted to find notes of the meetings.
Asked repeatedly about details of the case before the committee, Mr Stewart said he did not recall details or key discussions, or his involvement in such, though repeatedly saying he was not involved.
Mrs Dunne asked, given his apparent distinct memory he was not involved in the land swap negotiations, and his self-professed good memory, whether he could remember his role in other significant issues in the role at the time.
While he claimed involvement in a number of land releases at the time including Coombs, Denman Prospect and suburbs at Gungahlin, Mr Stewart said he could not recall any specific issues, instead asking the committee to give him his electronic calendar and the land release program from the time to verify events.
Mr Stewart also said, as a long-time ACT public servant and former senior Treasury official, he was seconded to the Treasury as Under-Treasurer for five months during the negotiations to April 2013, and was not privy to talks in that period.
Asked about his involvement after that time, and Mr Ellis' departure in January 2013, a period other witnesses have said he played a key role, Mr Stewart claimed there was no plausible reason for his involvement, and that his subordinates likely communicated directly with then-director-general David Dawes about the land swap.
Mr Stewart said he was aware of a meeting between Mr Dawes and Government Solicitor-General Peter Garrison in late 2014, after Mr Garrison's office raised concerns about the transaction.
His claims come despite Mr Garrison previously telling the committee he did not have concerns about it at the time, though if more changes were made to the land swap - which the original tender did not envisage - his office may have concerns.
Mr Stewart also said he did not take notes of that meeting, nor another meeting he attended - a key issue for the inquiry given the alleged disappearance of numerous notes on the deal - instead relying on government solicitors to take notes.
Clarification: This article has been edited to reflect that Mr Stewart gave evidence that he attended only one meeting, not two, about the land swap, and that he believed concerns were raised by the GSO, not Mr Garrison.
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