ICAC boss criticises Anzac High advice from public service


Ken Fleming, who heads up the Independent Commission Against Corruption, has severely criticised advice given by senior officers of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics to its Minister, Eva Lawler, who decided to go ahead with the demolition of Anzac High (pictured).
He told ABC Radio the process appears to have fallen well short of the best tradition of the Westminster system: “Cabinet acts upon the best information from their executive officers. Otherwise there seems to be a breach of public trust.
“I’m inclined to go back again for that information which may raise other issues.”
The interview with Mr Fleming was broadcast by ABC Radio in Darwin on Friday. This is part of what he said about the first decision of the newly-formed ICAC, triggered by a complaint about the process seeking heritage listing of the building.
That complaint by local historian and Heritage Council member Alex Nelson was not upheld by the ICAC.
But Mr Fleming was commenting on a statement by a senior public officer who claimed the building is “unsafe and is beyond economic repair. The current structure poses a risk to public safety. It is important that this site is cleared to ensure the risk is mitigated”.
Mr Fleming said: “We wanted to know upon what basis that statement was made.
“When we asked we were told, for example, that the evidence supporting this was the department’s technical officers had in depth knowledge of the facility [and] that it was not constructed to current building standards and to [upgrade it] to today’s building standards was considered to be cost prohibitive.
“In the heritage listing expert report it said the buildings were in good condition, and yet we find a statement by a senior public servant saying it is in fact unsafe and beyond economic repair.
“We simply asked for materials supporting that statement,” said Mr Fleming in the ABC interview.
“We were told simply that technical officers had in-depth knowledge.
“[He quotes] ‘We considered the technical advice by technical officers adequate to form the view that the facility was not economically viable to re-purpose the facilities to a standard that would deliver best use of this strategically located CBD site.’
“We have no issue with the fact that the government wants to repurpose the site. The issue that we have is the integrity surrounding the decision making process.
“We had two conflicting reports.
“We simply wanted to see the material upon which that statement to the public by a senior public servant was made.
“We got … that it was all oral. We expected some rigour to be around the decision making process. For example, we expected to see something at least in writing. But the department produced nothing apart from [a] letter from which I just quoted plus a subsequent one which is a half page.
“Cabinet acts upon information in the best tradition of the Westminster system. Cabinet acts upon the best information from their executive officers.
“Therefore it is critically important that the executive officers bring rigour to the role that they perform so that we, for example, can see a trail of decision making, matters documented, and the like.
“That seems to me to be required. Otherwise there seems to be a breach of public trust.
“We put trust in these people to make appropriate decisions,” Mr Fleming said.
“Our argument is not that the government wants to demolish the building. Our argument is with the processes by which public servants determined matters.”


  1. During the ABC interview in Darwin, Commissioner Ken Fleming was asked how many reports (allegations) had been made to the ICAC. Mr Fleming replied: “We’ve had well in excess of 340 reports now.”
    Asked why the investigation into my report about Anzac Hill High School was given first priority, the commissioner responded: “First, it was a very significant issue for the people of Alice Springs; second, it was a significant public asset – the building structure; third, the cost of demolition was a $2 million job.
    “Now, if in fact there was impropriety in the way the decision was made and it should have been heritage listed then all of those issues were very much alive.
    “It wasn’t an insignificant issue as some people might like to think”.
    Yes, that’s right – this is a significant issue for the people of Alice Springs
    This begs the question, why was this interview broadcast on ABC radio in Darwin but not here in Central Australia?
    Locally, the topics covered on ABC Alice Springs that day were generally light-weight (notwithstanding the AFL Grand Final discussions) and there surely was time and opportunity for that interview to be broadcast for the local audience in Central Australia, for whom it was of much greater relevance.

  2. The job position titles of “Technical Officers” is somewhat misleading.
    They may perform technical duties but a great deal of the “Technical Officers” have no – or limited – technical experience or qualification.
    A course in procurement, government contracts or – one of the favourites – project management, does not give any technical ability.
    Any builder, certifier or structural engineer could tell you the school is structurally sound and likely will be for a long time to come.
    Modernising costs seems to be a non argument. Look at the awarded value of modernising the local court and then add on all the rumoured contract variations (ED, that’s a good one to enquire about – current value of this contract).
    These are details which we the public are not given any reasonable way of learning. Updating building seems to be business as usual!

  3. @ Interested Darwin Observer (Posted September 30, 2019 at 9:29 am): You are correct, I was once a Technical Officer in the NT Public Service for several years, and you have described my previous situation quite well.
    It seems not much has changed in over quarter of a century.

  4. I can see it now. The old Chief Min whispering something to someone to get it done, and they are just doing what they are told. I doubt it’s some old mates fault.

  5. Alex is like a dog with a bone, and thank God for people like him.
    I think the message sent from ICAC is a shot across the bow of decision makers in the NT, and the emphasis on rigour and transparency very timely.
    In other words, vindication for one Alex Nelson and his supporters in trying to raise the standards of projects in Alice, and across the Territory. Well done ladies and gentlemen.
    The school buildings may no longer be there, but at least a legacy of sorts may still yet flower from its grave.


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