Lodge interior ready but no date for Tony Abbott move

Work on The Lodge is expected to cost more than $8.8 million. Photo: Graham TidyWork to refurbish the inside of the prime minister’s official Canberra residence is finished but Tony Abbott is yet to decide when he will move in to the historic home.

Extensive renovations of The Lodge are more than a year overdue and will cost taxpayers at least $8.8 million, dwarfing the original estimated price of $3.19 million.

While Mr Abbott was last week launching a review of travel perks for parliamentarians in the wake of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s resignation, the Finance Department quietly announced the inside of The Lodge was finished and the house was ready for its new tenants.

Work is continuing outside the house, including replacement of guardhouses used by the Australian Federal Police, new outside toilet facilities and a new shed for the property’s gardeners.

The project’s overall completion date has been pushed back again, this time to September. Previously the department said work would be finished in early 2015, later delaying completion until mid-year.

Commissioned under the former Labor government, the renovation has seen new wiring for the 40-room home, repainting and new carpets, restored heritage features, new bathrooms and dressing rooms, and a new “luggage lift” installed.

Asbestos has been removed from the 1927 home, while the entire slate roof has been replaced, heating and cooling system upgraded and new balcony balustrades added.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office said there was no announcement of when Mr Abbott would move from the Australian Federal Police Academy in nearby Barton.

Mr Abbott has opted to stay in a $110-a-night room at the college, shunning a $3000-a-week home in nearby Forrest rented during the pre-election caretaker period.

Contractors finishing inside the house will allow heritage furniture, curtains and artworks owned by the Australiana Fund to be reinstated to the interior. Finance officials told Senate estimates hearings in May they hoped the house would be ready for tenants by the end of June or early July.

The government’s tender website shows “asbestos re-encapsulation” work completed by Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia cost taxpayers $19,241.20.

Project management work by Fyshwick-based Ross Petsas Luksza cost $44,550.00 and specialist advice from Ainsworth Heritage consultants cost $59,449.01.

Law firm Clayton Utz charged $67,550 for legal advice on the project and removals and storage costs for light fittings and window treatments by Oldfield Removals and Storage cost $22,557.16.

A new gutter safety system installed in early 2013 cost taxpayers $81,581.50, while replacement of the 1980s slate roof by Roofing Slate Worx cost $335,314.71.

The cost of head contractor Mantenna has been varied to $8.87 million.

Mr Abbott has previously said he would lean towards “orthodoxy” and live in the home. Designed by Melbourne architects Oakley and Parkes, prime minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce and his wife Ethel Bruce first moved into the colonial revival-style home in May 1927.

Originally known as the Prime Minister’s Cottage, the heritage-listed property was built by James Taylor, of Sydney, at a cost of £28,000. Cabinet required the interior decoration and furniture, designed by Ruth Lane Poole, used quality Australian materials and the “best British manufacturers”.

Prime ministers Ben Chifley and James Scullin famously derided The Lodge and lived elsewhere, while 15 former leaders, including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, used the residence during their tenures.

Mr Abbott’s family already use his official Sydney residence, Kirribilli House.

The government has sought to avoid information about the refurbishment being made public, including blocking access to the media. One senior bureaucrat said Mr Abbott’s staff could be concerned about privacy or a poor reaction to the information being made public.

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