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There is one paragraph in the corruption watchdog’s latest report into the Andrews government's actions that should trouble all Victorians.
Found on page six, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) concludes that when a multimillion-dollar training contract was awarded to a Labor-linked union, safeguards designed to ensure integrity were bypassed and a conflict of interest ignored.
A report into the Andrews government’s awarding of a multimillion dollar training contract to a Labor-linked union exposes failings and unethical conduct.Credit: Paul Jeffers
As a result, a union with no relevant experience was given favourable treatment and privileged access to the government that was denied to others.
“The combined effect of these failings and unethical conduct resulted in a contract that should not have been entered into with the union and an outcome which was not in the public interest.”
In the grand scheme of things, an iffy contract to a union valued at $2.2 million in a government burdened with a net debt of more than $100 billion may not seem like a big deal. What’s a couple of million bucks between Labor and a powerful union promising to train hospital staff to deal with violence against health workers?
“Alarmingly, the report found that instead of offering frank and fearless advice, the state’s public servants are motivated by fear.”
As the commissioner points out, violence against health workers has been a growing problem globally over the past two decades. Surely, that makes it all the more important that the government follow proper processes to find the best solution.
Instead of addressing a critical issue facing our health workers, on the eve of the 2018 election the government awarded the contract to a union without a proper tender process.
The Health Workers Union was not a registered training organisation and refused to partner with the TAFE sector when suggested by the government.
Despite this, the government ultimately agreed to the union demands and allowed the new entity set up by the union to provide a training program.
To the surprise of no one, the training body only provided training to about 15 per cent of the cohort it promised to upskill and when the training went ahead, the quality was described by the department as “poor”.
What is a surprise is that the public service was even able to reach that conclusion, given the first scheduled training program was cancelled due to a lack of interest from participants or the planned attendance of an independent reviewer.
Alarmingly, the report found that instead of offering frank and fearless advice, the state’s public servants are motivated by fear. The fear of being denied opportunities or promoted if they dare to stand up to pressure from ministerial advisers.
As a result, public money was spent without a proper procurement process and much-needed training for frontline workers wasn’t up to scratch.
This report – from what is the fourth IBAC investigation to interview Andrews – is further evidence that ministerial advisers and public servants are susceptible to serving political interests rather than the public’s interests.
As the commissioner points out, this is “grey corruption” that might not amount to criminal behaviour, but results in rules being bent and political allies having undue influence on policy development.
This is not a question of individual moral failure, but the corrosion of standards, decision-making and trust.
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