The head of the new agency Major Projects Canberra estimated it would need an additional $5 million funding a year to run the office, suggesting it take unspent funds from Canberra Hospital's SPIRE project or light rail stage two to meet its corporate costs.
Major Projects Canberra was launched on July 1 last year, charged with overseeing the territory's major infrastructure projects. Chief Minister Andrew Barr said at the time the agency would be entirely funded through the existing budget for the territory's public service.
But even after the agency was live, how it was to be funded and how it was to remain "budget neutral" was yet to be determined, internal emails released under freedom of information reveal.
On July 3 last year, interim head of the agency Duncan Edghill said in an email to senior treasury staff that the "unresolved funding" could be more than $5 million a year.
He suggested a way to solve the problem was to take unspent funds from Canberra Hospital's expansion project SPIRE or light rail stage 2 to pay for the running of the office.
"As you'd be aware, Major Projects Canberra will need to incur costs associated with its corporate functions such as accommodation, audit, systems, governance staff and so forth (including my salary) - noting we've been established as a stand-alone agency," he said.
"The funding source has not yet been finalised for Major Projects Canberra in respect of these costs."
Mr Edgill noted that taking money from light rail or SPIRE would only address the funding matter for 12 months.
"The advantage of it is that would enable the new organisation to settle and gain a firmer handle on its actual corporate costs ahead of 2021-21," he said.
He said other solutions could be getting a mid-year funding boost, or contributions from other relevant directorates. Treasury staff balked at the $5 million figure put forward by Mr Edghill.
"Duncan already has the capacity to fund elements of this corporate team through the existing four per cent charges to agencies and from major capital projects he is responsible to deliver," executive group manager Mark Whybrow said in an email.
"In relation to corporate costs I understand that there is likely to be elements of infrastructure teams within each of the agencies responsible for the major projects and the services being transferred that are appropriation funded.
"For the establishment of a new agency on a budget neutral basis and do not consideration additional appropriations as a viable option."
A government spokeswoman said as of January 1, the agency was leading 260 infrastructure projects. She did not reveal what the current corporate costs for the agency were expected to be, except to say it was "less than originally forecast".
"This has been assisted by the Major Projects Canberra team utilising existing ACT government accommodation and having a number of employees transferred into the organisation from other areas of the ACT government," she said.
She said the directorate had remained budget neutral since becoming operational in July 2019, with no additional funding provided for its establishment. "Major Projects Canberra's corporate costs are allocated across the projects it manages, as would have been the case had those projects been delivered by other directorates.
These costs will vary from year to year depending on both the number of projects to be delivered and their stage of procurement," she said.