The Perth Children’s Hospital project is running three years behind schedule. (ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)
The failure of Barnett government ministers to question poor advice, a construction contract that left the state “commercially impotent” and massive tension between bureaucrats were key factors leading to the Perth Children’s Hospital project going off the rails, a report has found.
The findings are contained in a bipartisan parliamentary committee report into the problems with the hospital, which is finally expected to open in May — close to three years behind schedule.
The committee found criticism of the performance of head contractor John Holland was warranted, following problems including long-running lead contamination in water and the installation of asbestos-tainted roof panels.
But it pointed to poor government oversight as a major cause of why the project went wrong.
A big blow to Nahan
The report also blasted Liberal leader and former treasurer Mike Nahan for his management of the project, finding he failed to question flawed advice given to him and did not react adequately when the project began to unravel.
Those findings about Dr Nahan represent a significant rebuke of the Opposition Leader by his own shadow treasurer Dean Nalder, who was a member of the committee and endorsed the final report.
Committee chair and Labor MP Tony Buti said Dr Nahan and other former ministers were let down by inadequate and sometimes contradictory advice from bureaucrats, but severely criticised his handling of the project during his time overseeing it.
“Dr Nahan and his ministerial colleagues were reliant upon, and unquestioning of, the advice they received,” he wrote in the report.
“This is not good enough … the approach is fraught with danger.”
‘Flabbergasted’ Nahan hits back
Dr Nahan said he was unhappy he was not given the chance to respond before adverse findings against him were made, saying he was “flabbergasted” by the committee’s actions.
The findings about Dr Nahan were endorsed by his own shadow treasurer Dean Nalder. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
He also rejected the claims he did not adequately respond to problems.
“That is false,” he said.
“All the information [this] Government acted on was generated by the previous government, doing exactly what you criticised us for not doing.”
Mr Nalder conceded Dr Nahan and others overly relied on advice from bureaucrats, but said the governance issues were a far greater cause for concern.
State left ‘operating on goodwill’
The report found the governance structure used to oversee the project was plagued by tensions that caused confusion and “severely compromised” government oversight of the project.
“Confusion around key roles and responsibilities continued to plague the governance structure well into 2017,” the report stated.
“We find it difficult to comprehend how this confusion was not resolved.”
On the contract the state signed with John Holland for the construction of the project, the committee found it gave the state little room to respond when problems emerged.
“It is alarming that by the time elevated levels of lead were discovered in the water supply, the state was in a position of commercial impotence — literally operating on goodwill with a managing contractor,” Dr Buti told parliament.
While the McGowan Government is now expecting the hospital to open imminently, it is feared a lengthy legal battle will be needed to resolve the remaining dispute involving John Holland.
The Government believes it is entitled for substantial compensation from the builder for the delays, a position John Holland has firmly rejected — previously arguing the hospital was ready to open long ago.