OpinionThe Post Office: our crumbling monument to inertia

OUTDOOR PERCH: Even the pigeons are fed up with the city’s ‘imploding urinal’.G’DAY whingers.
苏州桑拿会所

It’s early May and the cold winds of change are blowing through the future jewel-in-the-Asia-Pacific. Gav the NBN weatherman said last Wednesday that it is time to pull out the door sausage and cover up the cracks. I typed “door sausage” straight into the Google machine. I now await the imminent arrival ofA Current Affair and the NSW police.

I wish the cold winds of change would blow on the Newcastle Post Office. The government’s parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald has provided a $150 000 heritage grant that will go towards “stabilising” the building. Will the gift from NSW taxpayers be repaid if and when its owners – the Awabakal Land Council – manage to flog it off? This whole caper looks more and more like torturous demolition by neglect. A landmark building is now little more than a gaping sore – an imploding urinal that stands as a crumbling monument to inertia, very bad decisions and ongoing buck passing.

The ALC was put into administration last October after investigations into its governance and financial administration revealed significant problems. ALC boss at the time Richard Green was talking up big overseas investors backing post office redevelopment. Sounded promising. Nothing eventuated.

Information about the type and scope of allegations against anyone in the ALC have not been revealed nor discussed openly by the government, the opposition or the ALC. It’s certain there was plenty of internal bickering – but that’s par for the course for many organisations – from footy clubs to the UN.Attempts to get a copy of the investigator’s report – under NSW Freedom of Information laws – to then Minister Leslie Williams that resulted in the appointment of an administrator to run the ALC have been refused. Attempts to get a copy of the ALC’s response to the allegations were also refused. The NSW agency responsible, the Department of Education, argued that it is not in the public interest for either report to be made public. An appeal to the Information Commissioner against the agency’s decision to not release the documents resulted in the Commissioner making “no recommendation”.

One of the reasons given for the refusal to release the reports is that matters relating to alleged fraud, corruption, mismanagement or misappropriation at the ALC may be potentially investigated by the NSW police, ICAC and/or the NSW Ombudsman. Release of the documents could have a prejudicial effect on investigation. Fair enough, but once a decision is made to either charge or not charge persons, that reason for not releasing the documents will dissipate. Prudent document redaction can sort out defamation potentialities if no charges are laid. Remove the door sausage.

There is no obligation for the ALC to answer inquiries from the media and they have long chosen to engage with the media on their own terms. Media calls and inquiries go unanswered and unreturned. That is their right. Equally, there is no obligation for the media to act as an ALC cheer squad and cover their “announcements” that are self-congratulatory or promise pie-in-the-sky schemes.But given the future of the city’s most iconic building lies chiefly with the ALC, surely the people of Newcastle have some right to know if, when and what sort of shenanigans may have been going on in that organisation.

Should we hold our collective breath or back the post office’s bulldozing? It’s been 15 bloody years and there’s no end in sight.

Cold winds indeed.

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