The Missing Millions

Fremantle Markets- People’s Palace or Murdochs’ Money Machine?

This photo is the earliest one known of the iconic Fremantle Markets.

The furore over the Fremantle Markets raging now won’t go away by the mayor telling aggrieved stallholders to complain to the government.

When the mayor and others voted 10 years ago to give the markets to the Murdoch family for 18 years instead of holding a public tender process, or letting the National Trust run the place as offered, the distress of the stallholders did not disappear.

So many stallholders left the markets, that a motion was put to Fremantle Council to use the Pine Warehouse building on the Spicer site in Henderson Street as an overflow market. That would have kept dozens of small businesses in Fremantle, provided healthy competition for Fremantle Markets just 20 metres away, and generated good income for the council. Then new mayor Dr Pettitt would not support that idea. Instead, we find that the tenant council put into that building has just left town, owing $88,000 in rent.

John Forrest laid the foundation stone for the markets in 1897, the same day his wife opened the Trinidad asphalt cycling track across the road at Fremantle Oval, and the same day John Forrest opened the new 1200 seat oval pavilion there, the one now in desperate need of maintenance by Fremantle Council. When the markets were opened in 1898, with John Forrest again in town, the Director of Public Works FH Piesse extolled the public benefit of the markets: “The best way in which to obtain cheap food was to encourage the producer.” So began the People’s Palace, where buyer and seller could benefit from an egalitarian venture. The return to the council in its first year was almost 50%, an astonishing success compared to the most recent financial figures, which reveal that of $3.12 million of rent collected last year, council only got $813,000.

In 2008 a report showed that the Fremantle Markets needed $4.75 million worth of works to do urgent works and restoration. The Fremantle Society has asked council – how much has actually been spent improving the markets since that urgent report and why is there a $500,000 debt registered against the markets?

The markets mess needs empathy from council, not disinterest. Stallholders allege they are suffering.

The People’s Palace belongs to all of us, and all of us are poorer when it doesn’t function as intended by our forefathers.

(image from Old Fremantle by John Dowson. Prints available from Finishing Touch Gallery)

Please note the new address for the Fremantle Society: Chris Williams, Secretary, PO Box 8160 Fremantle WA 6160

Please send donations and subscriptions ($20 individual and $30 family) to this new address.

“We Told you So”

The issues at the Fremantle Markets that caused so much devastation 14 years ago to over 100 small local businesses there, have exploded again after investigations by forensic accountants. The festering sore has been ripped open again. As the West reported on 25 May:

“The big margins being charged by the operator came to light through an investigation by forensic accounting firm Venture Analytics, which estimates FMPL is charging on average close to double the rate of Adelaide’s Central Market and five times that of Queen Victoria Markets in Melbourne.

The revelations raise questions over both the rents being paid by stallholders and whether the City of Fremantle is realising maximum value for one of its most prized assets.”

Just over 10 years ago, just as it did with the Kings Square Business Plan, Fremantle Council refused to put the Fremantle Markets out to public tender. It was inexplicable to the two City Ward councillors Lauder and Haney, along with others ( Crs Adeane, KIng, and Dowson), that one of the ratepayers’ most valuable assets would not be put out to public tender. But, by a vote of 6-5, council voted to give the lease for a lengthy 18 years to the Murdoch family. Three of those councillors are still on Council and also voted not to put the Kings Square Business Plan out for tender: Pettitt, Strachan, and Thompson.

In what was one of the most traumatic events in Fremantle’s commercial history, over 100 small businesses lost their livelihoods as increasing rents and disputes drove them out. It appears those disputes have continued.

Fremantle Markets have been an iconic Fremantle institution since 1897, and the thought of their failure or demise should bring shudders to those interested in the economic viability of the town. Just look at poor Subiaco, whose markets failed, and who now have accepted a developer’s monstrous 24 storey building on the site, to ‘save’ their markets there. Unbelievable.

When the arguments were raging 14 years ago City ward Councillor Les Lauder (and Fremantle Society founder) said ratepayers would miss out on millions of dollars if it gave the lease to the Murdochs without a public tender process. He has been proven correct.

To add to the problem, the investigative accountants told the Fremantle Society they have discovered that the council has a debt of $500,000 to the Markets.

The Fremantle Society want to ascertain the full financial picture, including what money has been spent to support the conservation plan for the full restoration of the Markets. And it is time for a full government investigation into the finances of council, and councillor decisions.

We ask that members get off their backsides and support such calls. Extensive investigative work has been carried out, and members need to support the disturbing findings so far by asking their own questions.

Orginally posted by the President 1 June 2019.

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