The Land Development Agency might be gone, but it is certainly not forgotten.
More than two years after the agency was officially split into two new entities following a string of controversial land deals, its dealings continue to cast a shadow over the present-day ACT government.
An ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry has for the past three weeks been probing one set of now-infamous dealings - the agency's handling of the purchase of nine rural properties west of Canberra between 2014 and 2017.
The trigger for the inquiry was former Auditor-General Maxine Cooper's 207-page excoriation of the processes surrounding the deals.
The audit report, published in June 2018, found many of the deals failed a number of the agency's tests for land acquisitions.
In one deal, the agency paid $7 million for a property, despite it being valued at $3 million.
Another saw the agency support the subdivision of a property it had previously intended to buy in full.
An arrangement with real estate firm Colliers International lacked "transparency and accountability", and was ripe for potential conflicts of interest, according to the audit report.
In evidence to the inquiry, key former agency officials have defended the motivation behind, and the handling of, the land deals.
There was also disagreement over the circumstances surrounding arguably the most controversial deal.
As such, key questions remain unanswered, ones which are likely stalk Labor in the lead up to the next election.
In its role as the territory's real estate agent and property developer, the Land Development Agency was responsible for ensuring the ACT government had enough land to sell in future years.
It was for that purpose that it spent $43.086 million buying nine blocks of land, which encompassed 3378 hectares of land spread across Canberra's western edge, between 2014 and 2017.
The properties were: Lands End (bought for $3 million), Milapuru ($7 million), part of Fairvale ($3.1 million), Huntly ($10 million), Wintergarden ($4 million), Winslade ($7.5 million), Pine Ridge ($4.6 million), The Vines (about $2.2 million) and Wagtail Park (about $1.68 million).
The agency's former chief executive, David Dawes, and deputy chief executive, Dan Stewart, told the inquiry that the genesis for the buy up was a "planning day" in early 2014, during which board members voiced alarm about the government's diminishing land stocks.
Mr Stewart subsequently presented to the agency's board on May 1, 2014, predicting the territory would run out of greenfield land to sell by 2031.
His findings were put to cabinet for its consideration on May 27, according to the audit report.
The inquiry has heard conflicting views on whether government minister's shared the agency's sense of "urgency" about a looming land supply shortage.
Mr Dawes and Mr Stewart suggested cabinet did not share their concerns, at least not to the same extent.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr told this week's hearings that he did not recall cabinet [or a cabinet sub-committee] instructing the agency not to press ahead with the buy up.
In any case, the deals were done, evidently with the support of the ACT government.
As Treasurer, Mr Barr had to approve purchases above $5 million.
The audit report
In the most basic terms, Dr Cooper found the agency did not follow proper processes throughout the three-year rural land buy up.
There was a lack of documents and other evidence to show that the agency followed its own land acquisition policies, including that purchases represented value for money. One specific "test" required that the proposed purchase price be "consistent" with independent valuations.
In the case of the 290 hectare Milapuru estate, the agency paid $7 million for a property valued at $3 million. That deal was this week described as "excellent value" by ACT treasury official Stephen Miners, on the grounds that it could generate at least $100 million in land sales revenue for the government.
The audit report found the agency also gave "inadequate attention" to the contracts to sub-lease the properties after they were purchased. Money wasn't collected from three properties, resulting in more than $200,000 in lost revenue, according to the audit office's estimates.
But it was two other aspects of Dr Cooper's report which have emerged as the focus of the Assembly inquiry; the agency's dealing with real estate agent Colliers International and the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the Fairvale property.
The unsolicited advice
On September 8, 2014, Colliers International ACT chief executive Paul Powderly sent an unsolicited, four-page proposal to Mr Dawes, suggesting the Land Development Agency buy or "take control of" five properties west of Canberra.
The audit report described the proposal as the "catalyst" for the purchase of Milapuru and Fairvale. Colliers' work was later incorporated into an official agency strategy paper.
The paper was later changed to mention that Colliers would act as the agency's agent for the rural land purchases, and would be paid for it.
The firm was paid close to $300,000 for its work, but auditors could find no records of purchase orders, a public tender or evidence to justify why Colliers was chosen for the job.
At the inquiry's first set of public hearings last year, Mr Powderly said the firm had "absolutely no conflict of interest" in completing work for the agency, despite it arising from its unsolicited proposal.
But the agency has admitted errors in its handling of Colliers' work.
Former chief financial officer Anita Hargreaves admitted that she signed the invoice, despite the fact that it did not have a purchase order on it.
"Anyone who knows me, I am a stickler for detail and I am embarrassed about it. Yes. It was an oversight," she told the hearing.
Asked by Labor committee member Tara Cheyne if she was pressured to sign the invoice, Ms Hargreaves said: "I cannot remember. I am really sorry. I cannot remember".
Arguably the most controversial deal involved the Fairvale property, off Cotter Road.
The Land Development Agency had a clear interest in purchasing the entire block, which was known to Fairvale's owner, according to the audit report.
But the agency ultimately agreed to support a subdivision of the property, which allowed Steven Flannery - who had valued the property for the Fairvale owner - to purchase a lucrative portion of the block.
The audit report found the agency supported the move "for no apparent reason or need", and did not have any documentation to show why it did not pursue the purchase of the whole block.
The agency's handling of the deal was described as "irregular", particularly given the section of the property secured by Mr Flannery was considered to be "strategically important" to it.
Mr Dawes, in his evidence to the hearing, denied the full block was ever on offer. That was corroborated by Tom Gordon, who was in charge of the agency's greenfields sites at the time.
Mr Flannery told the inquiry that he was upfront and honest about his interest in the property with the Fairvale owner and the agency.
He said there were buildings and structures on the land he bought, which the agency was not interested in.
"It was still quite a large tract of land that they [the LDA] were going to acquire," he said.
The 2018 audit report made a series of recommendations to the Suburban Land Agency, which, along with the City Renewal Authority has replaced Land Development Agency.
Auditors delivered recommendations regarding valuations, management of agents and advisers, as well as "probity awareness".
Suburban Land Agency chief executive John Dietz said his organisation was structured to ensure that proper process was followed and staff knew exactly what they were responsible for.
The agency has, for example, created a dedicated rural lease-management team. It has clear instructions for ordering valuations, Mr Dietz said.
"I'm confident that we have things in place to ensure that things happen appropriately," Mr Dietz said.
But opposition leader Alistair Coe said questions remained unanswered about the rural land deals, particularly the involvement of the chief minister.
"As the responsible minister, Andrew Barr must explain these serious integrity breaches," Mr Coe said.
"There are still many unanswered questions about his involvement in this scandal. Andrew Barr must detail and release all the advice that he received on these multi-million dollar deals."