11 August 2023

Campbell school tender process allegedly 'directed for a political outcome' by Minister Berry's office

| Lizzie Waymouth
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Construction work to Campbell Primary School

Lendlease was awarded the contract for the Campbell Primary School Modernisation Project in September 2020 and work commenced in January 2021. Photo: David Murtagh.

Officials were “being directed for a political outcome” in the tender process for the Campbell Primary School expansion project by Education Minister Yvette Berry’s office, a key witness told the Integrity Commission on Friday (11 August).

On the second day of the corruption watchdog’s hearings into why the tender was awarded to Lendlease when Manteena was identified as the preferred tenderer at two key stages, the delegate known by the pseudonym John Green said members of the team tasked with evaluating the tenders were aware of “the view from the minister’s office that Manteena shouldn’t get the job”.

This is despite Manteena offering to complete the project for a price almost $900,000 lower than Lendlease’s.

Mr Green claimed Minister Berry’s then-chief of staff Josh Ceramidas had told him in a phone call: “Let’s not make it another project where the government just chases the cheapest bidder” and he “gave his support to finding more money if needed”.

As counsel assisting Callan O’Neill pointed out and Mr Green agreed, this was the view also conveyed by the ACT branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining And Energy Union (CFMEU).

In yesterday’s hearings, Mr O’Neill told the commission that evidence was likely to suggest there was a “line of communication” between the CFMEU and Mr Ceramidas.

The commission also heard that the CFMEU held a negative view of Manteena and its industrial relations performance, and was also critical of the ACT Government’s procurement process and tendency to “take the lowest price”.

READ ALSO Union interference may have impacted Campbell Primary School project, Integrity Commission hears

Mr Green also spoke of a conversation between himself and education director-general Katy Haire, who had said something along the lines of, “I was summoned to the minister’s office to talk about the Campbell tender, they’ve got a view that Manteena is not to get the job”.

Ms Haire told Mr Green: “I’ll be the final decision-maker on this process”. Mr Green said it was “unusual but not unknown” for the decision to be taken out of the hands of the delegate by the director-general.

“It confirmed to me that what she wanted was for me to achieve the desired outcome of the minister’s office, which was to hand down a process where the minister’s objective could be achieved,” Mr Green said.

He said he felt a “degree of relief” not to be the final decision-maker on the Campbell project, because “we’re being directed for a political outcome … and in my view that’s above my acting pay grade”.

READ ALSO Curtin community group stakes claim for 40 per cent green space as horse paddocks consultation begins

The two tenders for the Campbell project were originally assessed by a tender evaluation team that awarded Manteena a higher ranking and a lower risk rating than Lendlease. However, the tender evaluation report was not accepted by the delegate and a second evaluation team was assembled.

The second evaluation team contained Mr Green’s subordinates in the directorate, Dylan Blom and Pal Patel, who he said were both aware of the minister’s office’s position on Manteena.

He also said he was likely to have commented to Mr Blom about the “disparity” in ranking between Manteena and Lendlease. The first tender evaluation team had initially awarded Manteena a score of 79/100 and Lendlease a score of 52/100.

In later questioning, Mr Green acknowledged it may have been inappropriate for him to have shared this information with the team.

“I was sharing with my team the political environment … In hindsight, I deeply regret doing that. I should not have said anything at all in that process,” he said.

Mr Green had been pushing for the tenders to be evaluated through a ‘best and final offer’ (BAFO) process, something he had made known to the tender evaluation team.

Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams asked Mr Green whether he believed that the fact the tender evaluation team was aware of his preferred outcome constituted a conflict of interest, given they were obliged to consider the issues independently.

Asked whether “without an actual direction, you went as far as you could or you felt you could go to ensure that was going to be the result”, Mr Green said he didn’t feel he actively directed that there had to be a BAFO.

“I thought I gave them the space to let them make their viewpoints on it, but I definitely guided,” Mr Green said.

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HiddenDragon7:40 pm 13 Aug 23

The pie chart which explains “what we’re spending your money on” on the info sheet which goes out with annual rates notices really should include a slice (and a fairly large one at that) for waste, mismanagement and worse.

Ray Polglaze5:38 pm 13 Aug 23

After receiving the Sofronoff report, Shane Rattenbury apparently quickly concluded that the position of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, was untenable and conveyed that view to Drumgold in a phone call.

I wonder if Rattenbury will be as quick to pass judgement on the future of Yvette Berry. If the evidence before the Integrity Commission continues in its current direction, it is difficult to see how Berry will have a tenable position as a Minister.

There must also at this stage be the prospect of a no confidence motion in Berry from the Liberals if the conclusions of the Integrity Commission reflect the current direction of the evidence.

I wonder if Rattenbury and the other ACT Greens in the ACT Legislative Assembly are considering how they will vote on such a motion.

If they were to vote against such a motion and express their continued confidence in Berry as a Minister, it may be difficult for them to claim that they are concerned about ethical conduct or giving the impression of consistency.

Wouldn’t it be a turn of events if the outcome of this Integrity Commission corruption hearing paved the way for the return of Gordon Ramsey to the Assembly.
Unlikely but possible!

Joshua “Josh” Ceramidas was a Labor candidate in the 2016 ACT election. He was a past official of the CFMEU and chief of staff in Yvette Berry’s office during this tender process. There are current and past Labor MLA’s (and no doubt future) who have strong union links.
It was revealed a few years ago that Josh Ceramidas was representing non-existent community groups in the media, providing positive spins on government policy.
This inquiry is progressing well and I await its outcome. I am a strong supporter of the union movement and Labour reform. Reform is necessary after 21 years of Liberal and conservative rule over the past three decades.
Labor and some of its elected representatives must move on from being dictated to by the militant, destructive and lawbreaking dinosaurs who inhabit the union movement and particularly those in the CFMEU!!

Martin Keast9:24 am 12 Aug 23

My observation of the leftists is power is that they always use it to favour their supporters. Probably if you dig deep enough, you will find some favours have been made or promised in exchange for the subtle directive from the Minister’s office “that Manteena is not to get the job”. All deniable. Glad someone is blowing the whistle on this.

This is extraordinary and just shows what everyone already suspects about this ACT green/labor government when it comes to procurements. The Unions are calling the shots and the ones paying the price are the taxpayers. Berry has a lot of explaining to do and if this is all true should not be an MLA yet alone a Minister. Surely this one case is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this government.

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