29 September 2023

Education director-general sought advice to 'prefer the other company' for Campbell Primary School project

| Lizzie Waymouth
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education directorate director-general katy haire

Education Directorate head Katy Haire told the Integrity Commission she had not been aware of any rumours that the unions had a problem with Manteena. Photo: Screenshot.

The director-general of the ACT Education Directorate sought advice from the delegate responsible for the Campbell Primary School modernisation project on “whether there were appropriate grounds to prefer the other company” despite Manteena being identified as the preferred tenderer.

Katy Haire told the ACT Integrity Commission on Friday (29 September) that she sought advice from Education Minister Yvette Berry’s office after the delegate, known by the pseudonym John Green, told her “that the company that was being recommended was in his opinion or based on his knowledge, not the company that had the strong track record” in the standards covered by the Secure Local Jobs Code.

Manteena missed out on the tender for the project, which was instead awarded to Lendlease, despite Manteena being identified as the preferred tenderer in two key stages.

She said she subsequently spoke to Minister Berry’s chief of staff Joshua Ceramidas and asked him whether the Secure Local Jobs code should be a priority in the decision-making process.

“Mr Ceramidas said yes, the Secure Local Jobs principles are more important than ever,” she said.

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Ms Haire said she also sought advice from Mr Green about not accepting the tender evaluation team’s recommendations, which was a possibility for her as the decision-maker.

“I had a conversation with Mr Green about the recommendation that was likely to come from the tender evaluation panel. I understood from him that the company that was to be recommended was the one based on his views and knowledge that did not have the track record for the bundle of things encapsulated in Secure Local Jobs … and I sought advice from him on whether within the procurement rules there were grounds to make a different decision,” she said.

The commission heard that there was only a marginal difference in the Secure Local Jobs score given to Manteena and Lendlease in the tender evaluation report – Manteena scored 7.1 out of 10, while Lendlease scored 7.9 – and yet it was the basis upon which the recommendation was not accepted.

Ms Haire said it was still within her role as the decision-maker to take the government’s priorities into account.

“I didn’t consider it to be skewing the weighting or reweighting; I considered it to be within the decision maker’s remit to take into account the recommendation of the panel … but it was open to the decision maker to take that into account and other matters that were appropriate.

“I was certainly conscious … that it is common practice and highly appropriate for government procurement to also achieve social, environmental and other ethical outcomes as well as the purchase of whatever the product is.”

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In evidence previously given to the commission, Mr Green said Ms Haire had told him that the minister’s office had a view on which construction firm should be awarded the Campbell tender.

Ms Haire denied Mr Green’s version of events and said she hadn’t even been aware of the names of the two companies involved in the tender process at that time.

“I wasn’t ever summoned to the minister’s office to talk about the Campbell tender and it was never relayed to me that they had a view that Manteena wasn’t to get the tender,” she said.

Ms Haire said she had not been aware of any rumours that “the minister had been approached by the unions and asked why Manteena is getting all the jobs”.

She also said she had not been informed of the CFMEU having an issue with Manteena.

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HiddenDragon8:14 pm 29 Sep 23

Unless a business which is tendering for an ACT government contract has been found to be in breach of a relevant code and is subject to sanctions/remedial action, or is under active investigation over that possibility, compliance with a code should be a matter of yes/no, not a question of degree based on a necessarily subjective assessment – particularly when the code is about process, rather than the finished product.

Nothing that has come to light thus far in this episode will be a surprise to anyone who takes even a passing interest in ACT public administration, but the arrogant attitude of some engaged in that process to the expenditure of other people’s money never ceases to be a cause of bewilderment and exasperation.

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