Unions NT rental deal to be examined

The former head of the Australian Crime Commission will lead an inquiry into the previous Northern Territory government’s decision to give a historic building to Unions NT for no rent.


John Lawler AM was formally appointed by Administrator Sally Thomas on Wednesday.

Chief Minister Adam Giles said Mr Lawler is “eminently qualified” to lead the inquiry, after 29 years with the Australian Federal Police and almost five years as CEO of the Australian Crime Commission.

During the last parliamentary sittings, the NT Legislative Assembly voted to establish an inquiry into the previous Labor government’s land deal with Unions NT.

On August 3 last year, the final business day before writs were issued for the NT election, then-Minister for Lands and Planning Gerry McCarthy sent a letter to Unions NT, offering a Crown lease of 10 years at nil cost for the historic Stella Maris building in the Darwin CBD.

The site was handed back to the government in 2007 after being used by the Seafarers Union to house sailors.

“Territorians deserve answers about this deal and Mr Lawler will have the powers necessary to get them,” Mr Giles said in a statement.

The inquiry will investigate the circumstances of the lease, the conduct of relevant officials, regulatory compliance, the provision of public information on the decision, and measures to improve transparency.

When the inquiry was announced, Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie insisted it was the right decision to allow Unions NT to use the Stella Maris site, and accused Mr Giles of wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on legal fees in a “cynical, expensive stunt and a desperate attempt” to deflect attention from his government’s failures.

She said the issue was the protection of a heritage site, and if the government thought the deal was not above board, it would have referred it to the Auditor-General 14 months ago.

“We look forward to the opportunity to put the circumstances of the decision-making before an impartial Commissioner and to clear the record,” Ms Lawrie said in a statement to AAP.

The inquiry will begin next month.