Leak reveals Labor's deceit over Blacksoil

BIG PROJECT: Premier Anna Bligh, with then State Member for Ipswich West Wayne Wendt (left) and Federal Member for Blair Shayne Neumann announcing the start of the tender process for the Blacksoil Interchange upgrade on January 14, 2012.
BIG PROJECT: Premier Anna Bligh, with then State Member for Ipswich West Wayne Wendt (left) and Federal Member for Blair Shayne Neumann announcing the start of the tender process for the Blacksoil Interchange upgrade on January 14, 2012. Contributed

A LEAKED secret document has revealed that the former Labor government misled the public on the true cost of the Blacksoil Interchange prior to the last state election.

On January 14, 2012, then premier Anna Bligh advised the press that the project would cost $70 million.

But a Department of Transport and Main Roads Noting Brief, sent to then Minister for Main Roads, Fisheries and Marine Infrastructure Craig Wallace, tells a different story.

The leaked document, sent to the Minister on February 7, 2012, says that "as of 2 December 2011, the detailed design cost estimate for the project has been finalised and is anticipated to cost $94.4 million".

It then goes on to say that "the revised budget of $94 million was advised to Minister's Office in briefings on 13 January 2012".

The document then admits that "on 14 January 2012, the Premier unveiled the signage and advised the press that the project was $70 million".

Acknowledging the $24 million discrepancy, the noting brief then anticipates the impact the revelation of the truth would have if made public. The document then states that "there may be media and electioneering backlash when the incorrect budget figure becomes apparent".

Ipswich West MP Sean Choat has been blamed for the cost blow-out on several occasions by Federal MP Shayne Neumann and state shadow transport minister Jackie Trad.

Earlier this year Ms Trad told The QT in a written press release that the LNP Government, including the Member for Ipswich West Sean Choat, was responsible for the cost blow-out.

"The Federal Government held up their end of the bargain, delivering $54 million in June 2012 towards what was a $70 million project ... in the meantime, the delays have seen the project blow out to $94 million - a 30 per cent increase on what was originally budgeted," Ms Trad said.

But the secret document says that "the increase in costs has been caused by the discovery that material on site is unsuitable for construction purposes and all required embankment material will need to be imported to site".

It had nothing to do with Mr Choat.

Mr Choat has hit back at his accusers, saying that the document "most definitely" proved that the former government misled the public.

"It is very obvious that the cost blow-out happened under the Bligh government, yet they have been trying to blame me," he said.

"I don't know why they would be so stupid as to try and push that line. They must have thought the public would never know, so they are continuing to tell this lie. It is quite extraordinary.

"You would have thought they would heed the warning in their own document that says there would be voter backlash.

"It is clear that they knew it was going to cost $94 million in late 2011.

"The Premier was told that in January, 2012, as is illustrated in their own document. But she has gone ahead and said that it would cost $70 million."

The former Labor minister for main roads was Craig Wallace. He has now left parliament.

The QT asked Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk's office for a response to Mr Choat's long-held position that he was not to blame for the $94.4 million costing and that the figure was arrived at under Labor's watch, as confirmed by the secret document.

"This project was announced under the former government which contributed $16 million on top of $54 million from the Federal Government," a spokesman said

"It is now just under a year since the LNP was elected and people are getting very tired of hearing LNP ministers and MPs like Mr Choat blaming the former government when they are under pressure.

"It is time he and the rest of his LNP colleagues did the job they are paid to do and started to deliver this project. Mr Choat's time would be better spent asking his own Transport and Main Roads Minister to progress the project."

Mr Neumann told The QT he had not seen the internal state government document and that he always understood it was a $70 million project.

"Our job was to contribute $54 million towards it ... that is why I stood beside the Queensland Premier when she talked about it being a $70 million project," he said.

Mr Choat said a motive for the former government's fudging of the figures might have been to force the current LNP Government to contribute $40 million to cover project costs rather than the initial $16 million.