Markets warning

Tim Foster says he gave Freo council a proposal for the Fremantle Markets, but never heard back.

THE Fremantle Markets could be moved lock, stock and barrel to another location if the current lessee doesn’t secure a new 20-year lease, Fremantle council was warned on Wednesday.

The council’s finance and policy committee was debating whether to offer the Murdoch family’s Fremantle Markets Pty Ltd a new lease on the iconic markets when the existence of a rival offer was revealed.

GTL Investments director Tim Foster spoke at public question time and said he met council CEO Glen Dougall in July last year and offered to forego three years of profits, matched by a rent-free period, in order to raise the $6 million needed to fully restore the markets.

Mr Foster said he was told the lease wasn’t up for discussion at that time, and he didn’t hear anything more from the council until officers put forward a recommendation to offer FMPL the new lease.


FMPL has proposed putting $3 million towards restoration over the term of the lease.

“I speak to you today as a third generation Fremantle ratepayer, business owner and father; and I implore you to vote against the officer’s recommendation … the proposed disposal by lease of our Fremantle Markets to the current head tenant and operator…” Mr Foster urged councillors.

He said the Murdochs had run the markets for 47 years, but the building was now in “ruin” and many locals prefered “to visit their local Coles or Woolies due to these exceptionally poor conditions and limited trading hours among other issues”.

But markets manager Natasha Atkinson responded that the Murdochs had taken on the Markets when they had been earmarked for demolition and it was now estimated to contribute $440 million to the economy each year.

“In 2008 researched showed there was $40 million spent at the markets that year, and we estimate that would be about $55 – $60m now,” Ms Atkinson said.

“Over 48 years the business has grown and we are one of your longest-serving tenants.”

But she also warned that FMPL owned the rights to the name and would re-open elsewhere with their stallholders if they didn’t get a lease.

Ms Atkinson said signing the lease “is the best thing for Fremantle, the council and our tenants.

She later told the Herald the delay in signing the lease, which was first mooted in 2018 before Covid hit, was creating uncertainty for her company and the 150 or so stallholders.

The expensive repairs have been described as “urgent” by the city over many years, and further delay could risk further damage to the buildings, she said.

“We love Fremantle and we are excited about our contribution to a thriving, lively tourism mecca, but, for the sake fo this historic structure and our stallholders we need certainty to allow us toget on [with] the job of conducting these urgent works.”

Councillor Marija Vujcic was ropeable the rival offer hadn’t been presented to councillors until last week, saying she believed it was a breach of 

the Local Government Act by denying her information to inform her decision-making, but Cr Bryn Jones pointed out that if the markets had been put out to open tender as Mr Foster was urging, he wouldn’t have been able to communicate with elected members about his offer at all, as it would have been dealt with in-house.

“It’s not an alternative proposal and it should not have been sent to councillors,” Cr Jones told the Chamber, saying the issue was being mired in “misinformation”.

Deputy mayor Frank Mofflin urged his colleagues to approve the FMPL lease, saying there was a genuine risk the markets could lose their mojo if the Murdochs walked with the name and their stallholders.

Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said voting for the Murdoch lease would also fit the council’s competitive tender policy, which said iconic business such as the markets could be exempt from having to go through a public process.

She said if Gino’s had been before the council with a suggestion of opening up the family’s lease to competition, “the chamber would be full” of irate ratepayers.

The committee voted to approve the new lease with the Murdochs, but Cr Vujcic was able to get a seconder to have the item sent to full council in two weeks’ time where it will be debated again.


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