An ACT Education Directorate executive has faced questions over the handling of allegations of union interference in a school building procurement process.
In the wake of a freedom of information request over the tender process for Campbell Primary and Throsby school building projects, the directorate commissioned an audit and drafted talking points in case of media inquiries.
Education Directorate executive group manager of business services David Matthews was questioned by ACT Integrity Commissioner as to why key information on probity issues was left out of talking points for the Education Minister in early 2021.
"It suggests a cover up, that's what it looks like. Now that might be an unintended consequence but do you see what this looks like?" Commissioner Michael Adams said.
Mr Matthews said the talking points were drafted to provide a "general response" on the freedom of information documents that were about to be released.
"I can't explain why selective or limited material were in the talking points," Mr Matthews said.
The directorate commissioned Sparke Helmore to conduct a probity audit of the Campbell Primary School procurement process after a note surfaced with allegations of union interference.
The commissioner pressed Mr Matthews as to why it was only a desktop review of documents and did not look into the substance of the note.
"It strikes me as a problem of competence and I am concerned that the gap does not seem to have occurred to anyone else," Commissioner Adams said.
Mr Matthews said the aim of the review was to quickly gather the facts and he expected further investigations into the matter.
"From my perspective, this was the beginning not the end of the process," Mr Matthews said.
'A thorn in their side'
Major Projects Canberra project manager Kelly Young said she was never questioned over the note she wrote suggesting interference from unions and the Education Minister.
Ms Young had been a member of the tender evaluation team that assessed bids from Manteena and Lendlease.
By February 2020, the first team had completed their evaluation and found that Manteena had scored higher on the criteria and should be the preferred tenderer.
However, the delegate, who has been given the pseudonym John Green, said the government should negotiate with both tenderers to reduce costs through a best and final offer.
Upon receiving advice on this process from the Government Solicitor's Office, Ms Young said she didn't think the best and final offer was justified.
She wrote a file note in an email to herself on March 13, 2020 that 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."
Ms Young said she could not remember what was said in the phone call with Mr Morton, who worked for the Education Directorate and was also a member of the first tender evaluation team.
She had a conversation about the issue of union involvement with her manager Rebecca Power, who told her to continue with the process.
Ms Young said about five people knew of the rumour of potential union interference.
The tender evaluation team was asked to reevaluate the tenders before going to the best and final offer round.
"I was exclaiming 'on what grounds?' Because there was no new information. We had done an evaluation, we had come out with an outcome. There was no reason to reevaluate," Ms Young said.
Ms Young said Ms Power told her "they want a different outcome" meaning the education directorate and the delegate, Mr Green, wanted a different outcome.
Ms Young quit the tender evaluation team because she refused to reevaluate the tenders.
"It seems now I was a thorn in their side and they wanted to get me out of the road," Ms Young said.
She finalised the first tender evaluation report without changing the scores but references to Manteena being the preferred tenderer were replaced with a recommendation to proceed to a best and final offer. A second team was stood up to assess the final offers.
Ms Young's file note surfaced as part of a freedom of information request but she was never questioned about it.
Love heart in notes
Mr Green returned to give further evidence. He was shown notes from the acting Education Director-General Rebecca Cross.
The notes showed the word "Lendlease" with a love heart below it and the word Manteena with "NL" below it near the words "Campbell tender".
Mr Green said he recalled telling Ms Cross the construction union's view that Lendlease was liked and Manteena was not liked.
Mr Green said he was aware Ms Young thought Manteena's design was substantially better than Lendlease.
Mr Green is expected to return to give evidence on the final day of public examinations on the Campbell Primary School procurement matter.
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.