22 December 2022

Integrity Commission aware of 'unclear, jargon-filled' CIT contracts as early as November 2021

| Lottie Twyford

The Integrity Commission said its investigations into the CIT contracts commenced in May this year. Photo: CIT.

The ACT’s integrity watchdog has confirmed it was first made aware of a series of unclear, jargon-filled contracts issued by the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) to skills and complexity thinker Patrick Hollingworth in November last year.

That’s almost seven months before the ACT Integrity Commission (ACTIC) took the unprecedented step of publicly confirming it was investigating the contracts.

In June, it was revealed that CIT had paid $8.5 million to companies owned by “skills and complexity thinker” Patrick Hollingworth over the last five years.

The last and largest of those contracts was worth just under $5 million and was signed in March 2022 – four months after the Integrity Commission had first received a complaint.

Generally, ACTIC does not comment on matters which may or may not be before it.

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In a statement released today (22 December), the commission said its investigations commenced in May this year.

It publicly confirmed this a month later after political pressure mounted for an investigation.

“The first complaint pertaining to the matters being investigated under Operation LUNA was received by the commission in late November 2021,” a spokesperson for the commission said.

“All complaints received by the commission are triaged and assessed. The assessment process is designed to establish the veracity of what is being alleged and whether those allegations fall within the remit of the commission.

“The assessment process can include obtaining additional information, including information held on commission systems and by requesting information from other people and entities.

“The assessment process also helps us to decide whether we investigate a complaint, refer it to another entity for consideration, or dismiss the report for one or more of the reasons specified in the Integrity Commission Act 2018.”

The number of days taken to assess that initial report and make the decision to investigate it through Operation LUNA was 110 work days, the commission spokesperson said.

Michael Adams

ACT Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams KC said the problem with the commission’s investigation was a lack of resources. Photo: IPCC.

Earlier this year, ACT Integrity Commissioner Michael Adams KC told budget estimates the commission would need additional investigators to help trawl through more than 1 million associated documents.

Mr Adams said the commission had first intended to investigate only the latest contract but later had to adjust this and look into the entire series.

He also indicated public hearings may be required.

But a spokesperson for the commission said no decision had yet been made as to if or when this may occur.

woman standing outside a building

CIT CEO Leanne Cover has been stood down for the duration of the investigation. Photo: File.

In June, CIT announced CEO Leanne Cover had been stood down on paid leave “for the duration of the inquiries and investigations”.

It’s not yet known if those arrangements have changed.

An interim CEO has since been appointed.

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The institute’s board, which claimed to have no oversight of the contract and was unable to confirm whether it represented value for money, was earlier this year directed to reset and refocus on teaching by Skills Minister Chris Steel.

Mr Steel, who has oversight of CIT, also revealed his office and Procurement ACT had raised alarm bells about previous contracts also issued to Mr Hollingworth’s companies.

They picked up on issues such as a lack of deliverables and an unusually short time frame.

CIT went ahead with the contract nonetheless.

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