Education Directorate head 'concerned' over union interference allegation

Sarah Lansdown
Updated December 4 2023 - 5:02pm, first published 2:47pm

The head of the ACT Education Directorate was "concerned" when she learned about alleged union interference in a procurement during a freedom of information request, the ACT Integrity Commission has been told.

WATCH: Opening remarks from ACT Integrity Commission, day one of hearings into procurement for Campbell Primary School Modernisation Project. ACT Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams KC and council assisting Callan O'Neill.

Education director-general Katy Haire has returned as a witness in the investigation into whether public officials dealt with the Campbell Primary School tender process fairly and honestly.

Ms Haire decided to go against the recommendation of two tender evaluation teams in awarding the contract to Lendlease, despite Manteena having a better design and cheaper bid.

The Commission heard Major Projects Canberra official Kelly Young sent an email to herself on March 13, 2020 with the subject line "File note Campbell PS union involvement".

The note said: "Phone conversation with Phil Morton this morning that the Minister for Education may have been approached by the Unions and asked why Manteena is getting all the jobs and this may be why 'John Green' is pushing for a BAFO where Manteena should be obvious preferred tenderer over Lendlease."

ACT Education Directorate director-general Katy Haire. Picture by Karleen Minney
ACT Education Directorate director-general Katy Haire. Picture by Karleen Minney

Ms Haire said this note surfaced during a freedom of information request from the unsuccessful tenderer, Manteena, and it was "complete news" to her at the time.

"I was concerned. I was concerned that this allegation had been made and of course I was concerned that I had been involved in it," she said.

Desktop probity audit

Ms Haire said she had a virtual meeting with Major Projects Canberra former head Duncan Edghill and head of the ACT public service Kathy Leigh to discuss the file note.

She said it was decided at the meeting the Education Directorate would commission a probity audit of the Campbell Primary School procurement process.

"I understood it to be reviewing all documents to see if the process had been done properly. It was a desktop examination," Ms Haire said.

Commissioner Michael Adams pressed Ms Haire several times about why a desktop audit was done when some relevant information was only exchanged verbally and was not documented.

"How could a desktop examination of allegations of this type can possibly be regarded as a full probity audit?" the commissioner asked.

Ms Haire said: "I wasn't directly involved in establishing the audit ... I understood it was done in the normal way that such things are done, commissioner."

The commissioner replied: "I don't think that's an answer to my question."

Ms Haire said it was "possible" the desktop probity audit would not capture the information about alleged union interference that was in Ms Young's file note.

She said she did not develop the probity audit terms of reference as she wanted to be "arm's length" from it as the final decision-maker in the procurement process.

Ms Haire sent text messages to the ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry's then-chief of staff Josh Ceramidas to give him a "risk-based heads up" regarding Ms Young's file note and later to tell him about when the freedom of information documents were going to be released.

Manteena 'cranky'

Ms Haire was shown an email from the official who was the delegate for the procurement, who has been given the pseudonym John Green, where he reported to her assistant about a meeting he had with Manteena.

"They are still a bit cranky because they feel they've been unsuccessful because someone doesn't like them," Mr Green wrote on September 23, 2020.

"I've suggested again they find out why they are unpopular."

Ms Haire said she did not think there were concerns with the probity of the procurement process after reading this email.

The ACT Integrity Commission is investigating whether Education Directorate officials failed to exercise their official functions honestly and impartially while handling the procurement process for the Campbell Primary School modernisation project between 2019 and 2020.

Public examinations are expected to end this week on Thursday, December 7.

Sarah Lansdown

Sarah Lansdown

Canberra Times education reporter

Sarah covers all stages of education in the capital, from early childhood to higher education. Previously she was a general news reporter at The Advocate in North West Tasmania. She was named Best New Journalist at the 2019 Tasmanian Media Awards for a series on paramedic shortages. Email: sarah.lansdown@canberratimes.com.au

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