Taxpayers won’t know in a hurry what changes are needed in the wake of revelations the federal government spent 10 times the market value on a land deal for a new airport.
The government paid almost $30 million for a 12-hectare plot for the Western Sydney Airport in 2018.
The inflated figure came to light through a scathing auditor-general’s report which found the land was worth only $3 million and the federal infrastructure department fell short of ethical standards.
The land is not needed until 2050 when the airport’s second runway is to be built.
Australian Federal Police are investigating the deal over possible fraud.
In the wake of the report the department has launched four reviews, worth close to $500,000 in private contracts.
But the police investigation will hinder the department’s ability to let taxpayers know what cultural and decision-making changes are needed.
“We are waiting for guidance on when things can be released publicly,” the department’s chief operating officer Pip Spence told a Senate inquiry on Wednesday.
Then-infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher and staff in his office have not been interviewed by police, she confirmed.
The Leppington Triangle land sale came under scrutiny through the Senate estimates process last year.
Wednesday’s inquiry is a separate probe by parliament’s joint committee of public accounts and audit.
A major issue raised in the Australian National Audit Office report related to an official holding meetings at coffee shops to discuss huge spends of taxpayer funds with landowners.
The meetings were not recorded and raised ethical questions.
Ms Spence conceded the department had no idea how many meetings of the sort occurred.
“We can’t provide with any certainty the number of meetings that may have happened when there are no records,” she said.
Officials said the project was on track with the airport to open in 2026, with expectations travel will resume close to pre-COVID levels by 2024.
The federal government has put about $20 billion into the project, in relation to construction and an adjoining rail line and infrastructure.
Senior ANAO official Brian Boyd said the agency’s review revealed the land valuer had even raised concerns about the process, as he was not allowed onto the property to determine a figure.
The department could not explain why.
“In the absence of any reasonable explanation, that is what led us to reach some fairly strong conclusions around the ethics of what the department officials had done in respect to this transaction,” Mr Boyd said.
The ANAO has been contacted by police multiple times since their investigation began, with the last correspondence around Christmas time.