10 September 2023

Berry's chief of staff sent disparaging texts about official involved in Campbell school project, Integrity Commission hears

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Yvette Berry MLA.

Education Minister Yvette Berry in the Legislative Assembly earlier this year. Ms Berry told the Integrity Commission on Friday she was aware the CFMEU was “unhappy” with Manteena. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry’s then-chief of staff Joshua Ceramidas sent derogatory text messages about an official involved in procurement for the Campbell Primary School modernisation project, the ACT Integrity Commission has heard.

Ms Berry told the commission on Friday (8 September) that she was aware of “general frustration” towards the official known by the pseudonym John Green.

In earlier hearings, Mr Green said Ms Berry’s office had advised him not to give the Campbell project contract to Fyshwick-based Manteena despite it being identified as the preferred tenderer in two key stages of the procurement process and to instead recommend Lendlease for the tender.

Ms Berry was asked about texts between Mr Ceramidas and another Labor staffer and friend David Ferguson, who was working for Industrial Relations Minister Suzanne Orr at the time, in which Mr Ceramidas said, “Mr Green is a d–k” and a “c–t doesn’t know who he’s talking to”.

In later texts, Mr Ceramidas said to Mr Ferguson: “Tell him I chewed that c–t Green out”.

Asked whether she had been aware of Mr Ceramidas reprimanding or speaking to Mr Green, Ms Berry said she was not.

READ ALSO Construction firm that lost out on Campbell school tender was ‘hostile’ to unions, Integrity Commission hears

In previous hearings, the commission heard rumours were circulating within the directorate that Ms Berry “may have been approached by the unions and asked why Manteena was getting all the jobs”.

Ms Berry told the commission today that she had known of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s concerns regarding Manteena around the time the procurement process for the Campbell project began in 2019.

“I knew that the CFMEU were unhappy with Manteena,” she said.

Asked when she was first made aware of this, Ms Berry said she could not recall, but “I just knew that there was that unhappiness”.

READ ALSO Top cop defends ACT police handling of Lehrmann, ‘the most unusual case I’ve seen in 40 years’

Former CFMEU ACT secretary Jason O’Mara told the commission yesterday that the union had several concerns with Manteena’s industrial relations policy and safety record.

“They didn’t currently have an agreement with us. We didn’t think their safety record was up to scratch. A number of reasons,” he said yesterday.

Mr O’Mara said it was his personal opinion that Manteena should not have been chosen for government contracts due to its conduct.

“I was surprised that out of the initial six tenderers, that they made the final two if the evaluation team had taken into consideration their previous safety record and their Secure Local Jobs record. I was surprised that they had even beat out the other four,” he said.

The commission has also heard from both Mr O’Mara and CFMEU ACT branch secretary Zachary Smith that the union did not think the Secure Local Jobs Code registrar – a position that Mr Green had previously held – was taking their concerns seriously.

“I had formed a view that he didn’t sufficiently understand industrial relations or sufficiently understand industrial principles such that there were certain circumstances where the union was making complaints about the conduct of contractors, and he was failing to make a decision or otherwise dismissing the complaint when it was evident to us there had been clear breaches of the Code,” Mr Smith said.

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Who would have thought an expired shelf life MP would have an even more out of date staffer

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