Documents reveal Dominic Perrottet, Paul Toole lobbied for Catholic control of $5bn cemeteries

by | Oct 28, 2021 | Government

Documents obtained by Michael West Media reveal NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and deputy Paul Toole actively supported the handover hundreds of millions of dollars in Sydney’s cemetery assets to a company controlled by the Catholic Church between 2017 and 2020. Callum Foote reports.

New documents obtained by Michael West Media have revealed that before Finance Minister Tudehope’s Maguire-like intervention to try and hand over control of Sydney’s Crown Lands cemetery sector to the Catholic Church in September this year, now Premier and Deputy Premier Perrottet and Toole were intimately involved in efforts to do the same between 2017 and 2020.

Following a failed unsolicited proposal by the Catholic Archdiocese and InvoCare to long-term lease NSW’s Crown cemetery sector for $1bn in 2017, the Catholics set about working on an alternate structure to transfer Sydney’s Crown cemetery assets (land and funds) away from a government trust to two Catholic owned companies. Experts have predicted that the assets will be worth over $5 billion over the next 50 years.

This proposal was a complex legal and accounting arrangement whereby the Catholic Church sought to not become a ‘controlled entity’ of the NSW Government, which was prescribed under the new Crown Lands Management Act 2016.

The Catholic Church’s involvement in Sydney’s Crown cemetery sector is conducted through the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) which is, despite its name, a government trust overseeing government cemetery assets.

As it stands now, the CMCT has charity status, is not required to have its financials audited by the Auditor General and has its board and chairman appointed by the Sydney Archdiocese. If the CMCT was forced to become a ‘controlled entity’ it would both lose its charity status and must reveal its financials to the auditor general for review.

The CMCT is the only government trust whose financial accounts are not audited by the Audit Office even though they are managing more than $400m of Crown assets.

Instead, in an effort to preserve its opacity the Catholic Church’s new arrangement would transfer hundreds of millions in cemetery land – via a 99 year lease (with an option for a further 99 years) to a Catholic company, Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria Limited (CCC) along with approximately $130m of perpetual maintenance funds.

The cemeteries to be transferred to CCC were the to be developed the Nepean Gardens, Rookwood Catholic, Liverpool Catholic and the to be developed Varroville cemeteries which represent the best assets of the crown sector and are conservatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In return, the Catholic Controlled company Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria (CC&C) would have paid the government a single dollar.

The effect of the deed was to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars of government cemetery assets and funds to a non-government party, without a competitive process, which was the same reason the 2017 bid was declined.

Correspondence obtained by Michael West Media between the chair of the CMCT, Peter O’Meara as well as the consultancy firm who developed the deed arrangement with senior NSW government officials reveal that the now-Premier Perrottet and Deputy Premier and new National leader Toole were directly involved in developing a deed by the Catholic Church.

Letter to Minister Pavey from Vera Visevic, Partner Mills Oakley

In 2019, the new Minister for Crown Land, Nationals MP Melinda Pavey, was cautious of the deed and decided to hold off on deciding until the independent Statutory Review, the 11th Hour Report was published in August 2020.

In response, the consultancy firm Mills Oakley hired by the Catholics to develop the arrangement insisted in a letter to Minister Pavey that a working group be established to review the deed proposal.

In the letter, Mills Oakley Partner Vera Visevic proposed that A ministerial staffer of Perrottet’s Treasury office, Sam Kusar, was to be part of the Working Group. A move Michael West Media has been told was highly improper, yet reflective of the involvement of Perrottet in relation to this issue.

In August 2020, the Statutory Review concluded its work and recommended the consolidated OneCrown entity. DPIE disbanded the Working Group and informed the Catholics that they would not be proceeding with the deed.

The minutes of the meeting reveal the CMCT’s CFO, David Rennerberg, stated that the CMCT itself had actually paid the $1m to develop the deed.

The CMCT is a government trust which oversees and collects payments managing government assets. This means that Peter O’Mara as CEO of the CMCT spent over a million dollars public money to develop an arrangement to transfer hundreds of millions in public assets directly to the Church.

Minister Pavey is expected to seek a referral to the NSW Auditor-General to have the CMCT account investigated.

Callum Foote a journalist and Revolving Doors editor for Michael West Media.
Callum has studied the impact of undue corporate influence over Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on popular interests.

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