No-notes-Kouts raises probity alarm over Madrid meeting

Thursday 15 February, 2024

Tom Koutsantonis and Department for Infrastructure and Transport boss Jon Whelan met with Acciona in Madrid while the foreign multinational company was on the shortlist to win the $120 million Majors Rd contract – and no notes from the meeting were ever recorded.

The shock admission was made in Parliament when DIT fronted Budget and Finance Committee on Monday.

The alarming revelation follows a new report into regional bus services where the Auditor-General found Tom Koutsantonis and DIT held three meetings “outside of established procurement process arrangements” with potential proponents.

When quizzed about the need to take notes during such meetings on Monday, Mr Whelan conceded he doesn’t take notes because “I’ve never found it necessary to take those notes”.

Under questioning, Mr Whelan said he and Tom Koutsantonis met with Acciona in Madrid in February last year and admitted “there are records we had the meetings there, but there were no notes taken at those meetings”.

The Probity Plan for Majors Rd clearly states that “all interactions with tenderers will be documented and records of meetings will be kept”.

At the time, Acciona was one of two companies in the box-seat to win the $120 million Majors Rd contract. Acciona was eventually announced as the successful tender winner.

And this was despite Peter Malinauskas publicly declaring he stands up to multinationals so we don’t “have to worry about overseas profits”.

Mr Whelan testified that no interpreter was present at the meeting - and that he can’t speak Spanish – stating he only “emailed the probity adviser at the time of everyone we were meeting on that international trip.”

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Vincent Tarzia, questioned the ethics of Tom Koutsantonis’ meeting with Acciona.

“It is alarming that Tom Koutsantonis and the head of DIT met with foreign multinational Acciona while the company was shortlisted as a contender for the $120 million Majors Road project,” Mr Tarzia said.

“We know this face-to-face meeting was held in Madrid and that no notes of what was discussed were ever recorded, which is worrying.

“It could appear to local South Australian businesses that tendered for the Majors Rd project that Acciona had special treatment.”

Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, Heidi Girolamo, said Tom Koutsantonis and DIT are already under fire for keeping a probity advisor in the dark over three meetings relating to regional bus service contracts.

“The Auditor-General has already warned that meeting outside of the proper process and procedure framework is dangerous because proponents could be perceived to be getting favourable treatment for contracts,” Ms Girolamo said.

“When it comes to regional bus contracts, we know records of the meetings did not capture exactly what was discussed with proponents.

“But in the case of Acciona, no notes of the meeting were ever taken it begs the question why?”