Potential conflict of interest

The Age: Potential conflict of interest. July 23, 2014. Henrietta Cook, State Political Reporter at The Age

Australia’s most senior infrastructure adviser is facing potential conflict of interest claims due to his previous work advising on the East West Link.

John Fitzgerald was appointed Infrastructure Australia’s acting infrastructure coordinator In April ahead of moves by Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss to make the body “more independent and transparent”.

At recent Senate estimate committee hearings it was revealed that before taking up a position with Infrastructure Australia, Mr Fitzgerald worked on the East West Link as a consultant for KPMG.

But Mr Fitzgerald told the hearing there was no conflict and he had taken a leave of absence from KPMG.

“The work that KPMG was undertaking on the East West Link has now finished, so the work that I was engaged with has finished. My only financial benefit was the remuneration that I was receiving at KPMG.”

On Tuesday he ordered the removal of a report that said $20 billion a year of Australian road funding was spent in a “hideously inefficient” way.

Mr Fitzgerald released a statement on Wednesday saying the report, issued by consultant Juturna Infrastructure, was released without the approval or knowledge of Infrastructure Australia and did not represent their views.

“On learning that the document had been released and purported to state views of Infrastructure Australia, I requested that it be withdrawn,” he said.

Opposition Infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday that Mr Truss had put Mr Fitzgerald in a difficult position and “should have thought twice about potential conflict of interests”.

“Mr Fitzgerald, who described himself as an advocate for the East West Link, was suddenly placed in a position where he was heading up the impartial body charged with assessing the project’s merit in comparison with competing projects.”

A spokesman for Mr Truss said Mr Fitzgerald was recognised as one of Australia’s pre-eminent infrastructure experts and had extensive experience in the private and public sector. “Furthermore, any other person who would have been considered for this role would naturally have experience in the infrastructure sector, and there are well-established and appropriate processes in place to manage any potential conflict of interest.”

The former senior public servant is also a director of the government-owned Victorian Funds Management Corporation and was a key player in the previous state government’s public-private partnership program.

A KPMG spokeswoman said there were was no conflict of interest and appropriate processes were in place. “KPMG is no longer working on the East West Link and our work finished there several months ago. This was before John moved to Infrastructure Australia.”

Infrastructure Australia did not respond to questions.

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