Labor seeks inquiry into New Norfolk Distillery grant offer

THE State Opposition will use tomorrow’s special sitting of state parliament to call for an inquiry into the State Government’s offer of $1.2 million to the New Norfolk Distillery earlier this year. Parliament has been recalled to deal with matters relating to the tenure of Supreme Court justice Gregory Geason and the Labor opposition will use the sitting to seek support for the establishment of an inquiry into the tourism grant offer which in the end was declined by the distillery.

The grant issue reared its head again last week, when Labor’s leader of Opposition business, Dean Winter, alleged that Lyons MHA Guy Barnett had misled parliament earlier this year when he told a hearing that his office had nothing to do with the proposed tourism grant. Mr Winter said documents obtained under Right to Information legislation showed that Mr Barnett’s office had written to the then minister for state growth, Roger Jaensch, seeking favourable consideration for a grant application by the New Norfolk Distillery for its now abandoned project at Willow Court.

In response to those claims, Mr Barnett said he regularly advocated for local businesses but the Labor Party was wrong to say he had misled parliament over the grant to the New Norfolk Distillery. “As the local Member for Lyons, I regularly advocate for local businesses in my electorate. “The letter from New Norfolk Distillery was referred to the Minister for State Growth, which was the appropriate thing to do. As I said in Estimates, I had no involvement as Minister for State Development, nor did my office.”

Mr Barnett said the Labor Party had confused the issue of the tourism grant offer to the New Norfolk Distillery with an earlier and unsuccessful application under the Building Projects Support program.

Apparently not satisfied with the explanation, Labor is now calling for an inquiry into the matter. “The Premier, minister Barnett nor the then head of State Growth were able to explain to Parliament how or why $1.2 million of taxpayers money was offered to the business,” Mr Winter said. “Yet, when asked about his involvement in supporting the distillery during Parliamentary estimates, minister Barnett denied any involvement, saying he had nothing to do with either the grant or loan.”

“However, an email (2 February 2022) shows that the Department of State Growth had serious concerns about the inappropriateness of minister Barnett’s office asking for ‘positive consideration’ of support to the New Norfolk distillery. The email states, ‘Minister Barnett’s office has made representations to request positive consideration of their grant application for their project at Willow Court (which in itself is not an acceptable practice or normal protocol.)’ ”

“We will be asking the Parliament to support an inquiry into the entire murky mess, particularly as it pertains to minister Barnett’s involvement,” Mr Winter said.

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