Millions of dollars worth of land has been sold off by the NSW government in closed-door deals that don’t allow the public a say, according to a new report.
A scathing auditor-general’s review found half of all crown land sales and 97 per cent of leases between 2012 and 2015 were negotiated with just one party, with no public expression of interest process.
The investigation by Auditor-General Margaret Crawford found the lands department complies with the law by publishing notices about land sales in its gazette and the local paper, but the public isn’t given a consistent chance to have a say.
“The Department routinely negotiates directly with a selected party for the sale or lease of Crown land rather than using an open, competitive process,” said the report, released on Thursday.
“The commencement of a direct negotiation is not announced publicly, so the public is not aware of the transaction until after the decision has been made.”
From 2012-2015 almost $22 million worth of land was sold and 27 high-value leases were approved – each worth $52,000 per year on average.
One secret deal involved the Paddington Bowling Club, which was sold to a developer on a 50-year commercial lease after direct negotiations with a senior government official.
A review sparked by community concerns later found the negotiations were inappropriate and the government withdrew its consent for the site to be turned into a for-profit childcare centre.
The auditor-general recommended the Department of Industry overhaul procedures to improve oversight and transparency.
Opposition spokesman for lands, Mick Veitch, said the community was being left in the dark by a government “veil of secrecy”.
“This is a scathing report and (Premier) Mike Baird and (Deputy Premier) Troy Grant should sit up and take notice that the community can no longer be shut out of the process,” he said in a statement.
The department has been contacted for comment.