But the project has since stalled with authorities raising serious doubts about AEC’s capability to deliver the massive infrastructure required, which includes residential towers, universities and research hubs.
A decision was expected to be made in 2017, but the state government has so far refused to commit to the project and insists it remains “in discussions” with AEC.
Despite the years-long hiatus on the proposal, The Age can reveal AEC has raised more than $21.5 million from 36 investors and, in recent months, signed a deal – which includes capital investment – with the powerful Chengdu Xingcheng Investment Group.
The state-owned company is ranked in China’s top 500 enterprises and service industries, and manages assets totalling 137.8 billion yuan ($A29 billion).
It claims to remain steadfast to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, which is aimed at strengthening the country’s economic power through construction programs in neighbouring countries.
Other “strategic and financial partners” claimed by AEC to be involved in the project include the China Development Bank, China Railway Construction Consortium, China State Construction and CITIC Construction.
AEC’s directors, Mr Martiensen and Mr Zheng, are both affiliated with the Church of Scientology. The company’s major shareholder, with a 63.13 per cent stake is Idenh Group – whose former director was Mr Martiensen and current director is Mr Zheng – followed by AEC Strategic Holdings and Building Materials City Ltd.
Mr Martiensen said the company was also in talks with American, Singaporean and European businesses, and had the support of IBM, Cisco, PowerChina, Jacobs, Honeywell and Telstra.
“Australia’s need to engage internationally, across high-tech and research industries, to drive economic activity and create jobs and prosperity for our citizens is very clear,” Mr Martiensen said.
In a bid to address cabinet-level apprehension in the government about the project, AEC had former Labor premier John Brumby on its advisory board and employed ALP-connected lobbyists at Hawker Britton, 3 Tiers Advisory and Spring Street Advisory to advance its cause.
To counter concerns, Mr Martiensen has also spruiked “repeated support” from the local council, Wyndham City Council.
AEC was initially given until September 2016 to convince the state government its plan for the land was achievable, but it requested a six-month extension.
Treasurer, and local MP, Tim Pallas last year questioned the viability of the project, saying it would only go ahead “when and if we are satisfied it stacks up”.
The Age sent questions to the state government asking what stage the approvals process had reached. A spokesman for Gavin Jennings, the minister for priority precincts, replied that the government was discussing the project with AEC.
“No commitments have been made and nothing yet decided,” the spokesman said.
Wyndham Council director Kate Roffey, who last year called on the state government to commit to the project, said the council had not “been involved in any discussions regarding the specifics of any arrangements”.
“As the East Werribee Employment Precinct (EWEP) is an identified National Employment Cluster, Wyndham City fully supports the appropriate development of the EWEP,” Ms Roffey said.
Hawker Britton director John-Paul Blandthorn confirmed it was still lobbying the government on behalf of AEC.
Several attempts were made to contact Chengdu Xingcheng Investment Group. 3 Tiers Advisory and Spring Street Advisory were contacted for comment.
Sumeyya is a reporter for The Age.
Property Editor at The Age and BusinessDay journalist for Fairfax’s theage.com.au, smh.com.au, watoday.com.au and brisbanetimes.com.au.