22 July 2022

CIT appoints acting CEO as Liberals lash Steel over refusal to answer more questions about 'unusual' contracts

| Lottie Twyford
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Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has come out swinging at Minister for Skills Chris Steel since the news of the multi-million-dollar jargon-filled contracts first broke in June. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

A new acting CEO of the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) was appointed today (22 July) after the institute’s former boss, Leanne Cover, was directed to stand down in the wake of a scandal over CIT awarding $8 million in unclear, jargon-filled contracts to a single contractor.

It comes as the Canberra Liberals keep up the pressure on the ACT Government to answer more questions about the series of “unusual” contracts awarded to “skills and complexity thinker” Patrick Hollingworth.

But the ACT Government remains tight-lipped, with Skills Minister Chris Steel saying he cannot speak further on the matter while the Integrity Commission conducts its investigation.

The latest – and most expensive – of the contracts was awarded in March 2022 at a cost of $4.99 million for services including mentoring and organisational transformation.

The contract has been heavily criticised for including indecipherable jargon but no measurable outcomes.

Since the news of these contracts first broke in early June, not only has Ms Cover been stood down but CIT’s board has been warned to reset and refocus on teaching after it could not assure Mr Steel the contracts were value for money and the Integrity Commission took the unprecedented step of publicly announcing it would be conducting an investigation into the matter.

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Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee is now accusing Mr Steel of using the Integrity Commission’s investigation as an excuse for not answering further questions about the contracts.

In the last Legislative Assembly sitting week in June, Ms Lee asked multiple questions about the contracts and discussions Mr Steel had about them. Many were taken on notice.

Since that sitting week, roughly 45 additional questions relating to the contracts have been lodged.

Mr Steel says he can’t answer any of them.

In a statement to Region, the Minister argued he’s being asked to provide information possibly relevant to an investigation conducted by the Integrity Commission.

“The Canberra Liberals should understand the duty on me, and themselves, to not hinder or interfere in the conduct of that investigation,” he says.

He’s provided the same statement to each of the Liberals’ questions.

“This question and related questions are matters that are currently the subject of an investigation by the ACT Integrity Commission. To ensure the Integrity Commission’s work can proceed without interference, these questions cannot be responded to at this time,” he wrote.

An unimpressed Ms Lee says this is not an answer and Canberrans deserved more information.

Chris Steel

Minister for Skills Chris Steel says he can’t respond to any further questions about the CIT contracts until the Integrity Commission has completed its investigations. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

The Opposition Leader is now renewing calls for transparency from the Minister.

“It is absolutely imperative for the Minister to be upfront with the public about the murkiness that has clouded these contracts,” Ms Lee says.

“It is deplorable and a complete slap in the face to all Canberrans for the Minister to go into hiding.

“To hide behind the current Integrity Commission investigation as an excuse not to answer questions even on topics that do not relate to the procurements and contracts themselves is a disgrace.”

Furthermore, Ms Lee said the Canberra Liberals’ multiple Freedom of Information requests submitted to CIT have not been responded to within their statutory deadlines.

She says that’s further proof of the “culture of secrecy” being fostered by the government.

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The acting CEO, named this afternoon, is Christine Roberston. She is currently Executive Director Quality and Performance at the Holmesglen Institute in Melbourne.

She previously held the positions of Pro Vice-Chancellor, Vocational Education and Training, at Charles Darwin University and Deputy Director Vocational Education at RMIT University in Victoria.

“I have long admired CIT for the quality of their education and training programs and the many achievements of students and staff. I am looking forward to meeting and working with the Board, Executive and extended CIT community over the coming months,” Ms Robertson said.

Ms Cover is on leave until the end of August.

In a statement, the CIT Board said Ms Robertson’s appointment could be extended beyond this date if necessary.

Former board chair Craig Sloan, whose term ended last month, has already been replaced by deputy chair Kate Lundy – an appointment defended by Mr Steel as “important for continuity”.

Neither Ms Lundy nor Mr Hollingworth have responded to previous requests for comment from Region.

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Whilst questions have to be answered, Lee is a lightweight. Since their election loss, they are still yet to tell us how they would improve things if they were elected to Government.

The ACT Liberal Party are a joke, always have been.

Good on you Liz. Keep this mob accountable. I’ve never voted Liberal but I might just do it next time.

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