8 June 2022

Skills Minister survives no-confidence motion over 'ill-defined' million-dollar CIT contract to a 'systems thinker'

| Lottie Twyford
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Chris Steel

Minister for Skills Chris Steel has survived a no-confidence motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly over an almost $5 million contract awarded to a “systems thinker”. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

ACT Minister for Skills Chris Steel has survived a no-confidence motion after the Opposition sounded “alarm bells” over millions of dollars in “ill-defined” contracts awarded to a consultant by the Canberra Institute of Technology.

Yesterday, Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee demanded Mr Steel answer questions about what contracts of more than $8 million awarded to consultant and “systems thinker” Patrick Hollingworth had been for.

Mr Steel responded that he didn’t know, and he sent a please explain letter to CIT asking for a jargon-free response by early next week.

READ ALSO CIT under spotlight for awarding ‘ill-defined’ $5 million contract to a ‘systems thinker’

The Skills Minister then revealed he had first raised concerns about previous CIT contracts totalling $3.36 million with Mr Hollingworth as early as last March and had questioned what they were for and whether they were a good use of public money.

Ms Lee, however, blasted the Minister’s response yesterday as “damage control”.

“The Minister knew,” she repeated three times.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee accused Mr Steel of trying to deflect blame onto the CIT board rather than taking responsibility. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

“In a move that is inexcusable and unforgivable – after the Minister knew and asked questions about these dodgy contracts – CIT then went on to award two further contracts totalling $5.5 million to the same contractor,” Ms Lee told the ACT Legislative Assembly.

“The buck stops with the Minister … he must stand up and take responsibility for this egregious use of taxpayer funds and he must do the right thing and resign.”

Ms Lee said it was absolutely “unacceptable” that Mr Steel had allowed additional contracts to be awarded under his watch.

She accused the ACT Greens of calling for transparency but being “complicit” in the “culture of secrecy” fostered by the government to which they belong.

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In response to Ms Lee, Mr Steel reiterated points he’d made yesterday in a statement – that the CIT board operates under a governing board and executive that is external to government.

“As the Minister for Skills, I have policy oversight over the delivery of vocational education and training in the ACT but not the day-to-day delivery and oversight of CIT operation,” he told the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Mr Steel said he’d contacted the board in March about the initial four contracts awarded to Mr Hollingworth’s companies after media inquiries brought them to his attention.

He was then told that CIT, if it decided to acquire future “change management and professional services”, would follow appropriate government procurement processes.

Therefore, Mr Steel said he had been “concerned” to learn of the latest contract.

READ ALSO Ex-Canberra Liberals MLA Giulia Jones takes up new role

But the Minister argued the usual and correct process – of not informing his office – had been followed.

“This is as it should be … ministers and our offices should not be directly involved in procurement processes by government agencies or public entities like the CIT,” he told the Assembly.

But he said he wanted to make it clear that this did not mean the government was defending the signing of the latest contract and he too wanted answers.

“If this is procurement is found to have been undertaken without integrity and probity, then as Minister for Skills, I will take further action.”

Shane Rattenbury

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the ACT Greens would not support the no-confidence motion. Photo: Region Media.

Neither Labor nor the Greens would support the no-confidence motion, but they did urge Auditor-General Michael Harris to look at the contracts.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said there were serious questions to be asked about the contract, including the fact that the contract came in just $10 below the threshold at which it would have gone before the government’s procurement board.

“We need to get to the bottom of why this contract was given and what is being delivered from it … most people are scratching their heads and wondering about the [cost] and the detail of these contracts,” he told the Assembly.

Mr Rattenbury said Mr Harris would be the most appropriate person to review the contracts but should he choose not to, the Assembly would then look at other options it had at its disposal.

But he said the Opposition’s motion was “getting ahead of itself”.

“The Liberal Party is seeking a political death penalty before the trial has even taken place,” he said.

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Chris Steele loves the exciting and headline grabbing stuff like light rail, expanded green bin pickups and new progressive policies.

But he totally ignores the boring old stuff like reducing bus services for the outer suburbs or the CIT not properly teaching trades and skills to Joe and Jill Average.

He needs to step up to the plate for everyday Canberrans not just for media opportunities.

Pretty disgraceful. It looks like CIT Management needs to hire consultants to do their jobs for them.

So if found guilty Steel should face another no-confidence? or greens always stick with Labor?

Finagen_Freeman4:13 pm 08 Jun 22

Oh boy. This is the worst I’ve read in ten years in Canberra. The contracts are available on the public contracts register and show he is specifically providing advice to the CEO and the executive team. From a first contract worth $198k (just under the $200k threshold) to six million dollars!

So the CIT CEO Leanne Cover, needs $6m worth of advice? Surely they hired the wrong CEO.

I’m guessing there are kick backs or family ties involved. Call me sceptical, but I’ll bet Leanne will be running for cover (pun) and we’ll see a new CEO shortly.

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