The Northern Territory government awarded a tender to assess fire safety equipment at Darwin’s main sports stadium to the same company involved in its original design, raising concerns from the opposition about a potential conflict of interest.
- The Marrara Stadium sports complex hosts AFL and NRL games in Darwin
- Firefighters have previously raised concerns about the hydrant system’s functionality
- The government insists the venue remains safe, despite not having an occupancy certificate
Earlier this year, some firefighters expressed concern about potentially inadequate water pressure and volumes at the Marrara Stadium, also called TIO Stadium, ahead of an AFL game attended by thousands of spectators.
A fortnight later, NT Planning Minister Eva Lawler told a budget estimates committee that a company called Cardno had been selected to assess a “complaint about the water and fire main”.
At the same hearing, the chief executive of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics provided further details about the company’s contract.
“It is doing work on the water hydrology, which is effectively the hydrant capacity and the ability to fight fires at TIO Stadium,” Andrew Kirkman said.
The ABC has seen documentation showing Cardno was involved in the original design and certification of the fire hydrant system in 2014, before a separate company installed it.
NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro has questioned why a different company wasn’t selected to assess the original equipment.
“To some, this won’t look like it passes the pub test,” she said.
Asked whether the contract could create a perception of a conflict of interest, Ms Finocchiaro said: “Absolutely, people could have that perception”.
“But ultimately, where is the government leadership on this issue?”
‘Historical knowledge’ was beneficial: department
In a statement, the department said at the time of installation, the fire hydrant system had the appropriate occupancy certification, including “agreement” from the NT Fire and Rescue Service.
The department said Cardno’s familiarity with the existing system was an important factor in its selection for the assessment contract.
“A select tender was awarded to Cardno due to their historical knowledge of the hydrant system, to provide this advice and any additional documentation required,” the department said.
“During this process, it was confirmed that although the pressure at the supply hydrant assembly was sufficient, the department would upgrade the system, taking into consideration any future expansion at the facility, including in the general Marrara sporting complex.”
The department said Cardno had subsequently been engaged to do the upgrade, including the installation of fire booster pumps, water tanks and associated works.
Stadium’s occupancy certification under investigation
Ms Lawler and her department have repeatedly insisted there are no safety concerns at the stadium, despite it not having an occupancy certificate since it was built in the 1990s.
“Extensive works have been undertaken to ensure the TIO Stadium remains safe for use on an ongoing basis and for major events,” the department said.
But in March, the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Michael Riches, launched an investigation into the use of facility after Ms Lawler made a declaration that it would be temporarily exempt from the required occupancy certification.
Several months later, the ICAC boss revealed up to 300 other buildings in the NT, which are either owned or leased by the government, also did not comply with occupancy regulations.
The ICAC investigation is ongoing and is now being run in partnership with the NT ombudsman.