The Parliament’s public works committee has given its approval for the Finance Department to move ahead with its $220 million deal for the massive new office headquarters at 1 Canberra Avenue.
Members and Senators took some convincing of the value-for-money of the deal which is understood to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the lease.
The committee had been asked to approve a $32 million fit-out for the new building with landlord the Willemsen Group to foot the bill as a sweetener to the deal.
But the whole move looked shaky after senior officials were told by committee members in February that they were setting a “bad example” for the rest of the public service with a move that would cost $66 million more than simply staying at the John Gorton building.
It took an intervention at an additional committee hearing by Departmental Secretary Jane Halton who told the MPs and senators that the $66 million figure was “plain wrong”.
Ms Halton said the move to the 20,502 square metre building at Canberra Avenue would avoid Finance having to pick up a $220 million bill for an upgrade of the John Gorton Building.
She said the deal would allow her to bring most of Finance’s 1800 Canberra-based public servants under one roof and see more than 600 Environment Department workers move from their offices in Civic into the John Gorton Building.
Finance is keen to keep key aspects of the deal shrouded in secrecy, insisting on confidential submissions to the committee, closing hearings off to the public and media and refusing to make public its cost-benefit analysis on the deal.
But it insists that it will save more than $60 million during the life of the Canberra Avenue lease.
Despite the recommendation of the Public Works Committee, a Departmental spokeswoman said Canberra Avenue was not yet a done deal and that approval of the Parliament was still needed.
“At this stage, this is only a recommendation by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works which is being considered by Parliament,” the spokeswoman said.