21 May 2024

Education Directorate head takes Integrity Commissioner to court amid corruption investigation

| Claire Fenwicke
Education Directorate director general Katy Haire

Education Directorate Director General Katy Haire has taken the ACT Integrity Commission to court. Photo: Screenshot.

It’s been revealed a top public servant is taking legal action against the ACT’s independent watchdog, asking the court to stop an investigation into allegations of corruption.

Education Directorate Director General Katy Haire filed Supreme Court proceedings against ACT Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams (as well as the commission itself), with the first court hearing held on 7 September 2023.

It’s in regards to the commission’s investigation into the Campbell Primary School modernisation project, dubbed Operation Kingfisher.

Her legal team has requested the court to order the investigation cease, hold no more public hearings and not hand down any findings.

In filed documents, Ms Haire’s legal team asked the court to review Mr Adams’ decision not to recuse himself from conducting the investigation “on the basis of a reasonable bias”, as well as his decision not to allow the barristers to cross-examine project delegate John Green (a pseudonym) on evidence he gave at public hearings between 24 and 29 August 2023.

The document submitted that the continuation of Operation Kingfisher could mean a breach of the rules of natural justice “is happening or is likely to happen” in the terms that an ordinary person could consider Mr Adams wouldn’t approach his tasks “with a sufficient level of impartiality and is not open to persuasion”.

It also argued Mr Adams’ decision not to allow Ms Haire’s legal team to cross-examine Mr Green was an “error of law” or an “improper exercise of [his] power … in that the decisions were so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have so exercised the power or in that the decisions lack an evident and intelligible justification”.

In December, Ms Haire’s legal team was allowed to cross-examine Mr Green during the investigation’s hearings.

READ ALSO Alleged cold case murderer claims his human rights were breached at Canberra’s prison

The Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee said the government had a number of questions to answer, including when the Chief Minister, Attorney-General and Education Minister knew about the court proceedings, the basis of the bias claim, why court proceedings had been delayed and by whom.

She also wants to know whether the ACT Government (and essentially taxpayers) will be paying Ms Haire’s legal costs.

Ms Lee said court documents showed Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury was made aware of the proceedings in September.

“It’s incredibly important to know [when everyone knew] given that the Attorney-General, at least in the early directions from the court, was given an opportunity to intervene, and whether he made a decision to do that or not do that,” she said.

“Given the extraordinary lengths the ACT Government is taking to delay the findings of this investigation until after the October ACT election, Canberrans should be asking: what does the government have to hide?”

The court matter is next listed to be heard on 25 November.

Given that Ms Haire’s legal team ended up cross-examining Mr Green, Ms Lee questioned why the case hadn’t been dropped.

“The question then becomes: what is the amendment and why have these proceedings not been discontinued, given that her barristers were given the opportunity to cross-examine the witness back in December last year?” she asked.

“Whilst, of course, parties have the right to commence legal proceedings as they see fit, I think that many Canberrans will be very, very concerned and raising an eyebrow about the timing.”

Ms Lee said she was not questioning the impartiality, integrity or ability of the court to deal with such matters.

“When there is an allegation of bias made against a judicial officer or, in this case, the Integrity Commissioner, it is an incredibly serious matter and must be dealt with expeditiously,” she said.

“For a claim of bias, it is extraordinary that it has stretched out this long.”

READ ALSO Illegal cigarette conspiracy allegations against top lawyer Ben Aulich go to contested committal

The ACT Integrity Commission said the court matter was originally meant to receive its final hearing date on 18 September 2023.

“The first hearing date of 27 November 2023 was not suitable to Ms Haire, and consequently, a listing date of 5 February 2024 was determined,” it stated.

“On 15 March 2024, Ms Haire sought a further adjournment, and on 15 April 2024, a final hearing date of 25 November 2024 was determined.”

The Commission has engaged external legal counsel and stated the legal action had not hindered its investigation.

An ACT Government spokesperson told Region that public employees who were the subject of legal claims or inquiries “arising out of the course of the performance of their duties” were entitled to seek assistance in their legal representation.

“The Territory agreed to assist Ms Haire with the cost of her representation,” they said.

“The Territory is not a participant in the legal proceedings commenced by Ms Haire in September 2023 and has no involvement in those proceedings.”

The investigation has been into the procurement and tender process for the school project following a damning Auditor General report.

It’s heard allegations of pressure from the Education Minister and union interference over the awarding of the tender.

The next public hearing will be held on 8 July.

A draft report will then be prepared for the consideration of all parties and a final report will be handed to the Legislative Assembly.

Through her legal representatives, Ms Haire declined to comment, given the matter is before the courts.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.