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Premier Daniel Andrews has downplayed the assertion that there has been a shift to more centralised government control under his watch, labelling commentary contained in the latest Victorian anti-corruption commission report as “very sweeping and broad”.
His comments come after the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) publicly released its report on Operation Daintree on Wednesday.
Daintree is the codename for the watchdog’s investigation into how the Health Workers Union was awarded a $1.2 million government contract on the eve of the 2018 election without a competitive tender process.
But what did the report say, exactly, and what are its recommendations? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Andrews government staffers unfairly pressured independent public servants
Operation Daintree found that staff in the Premier’s Private Office (PPO) and the offices of the then health ministers, breached their ethical obligations by pressuring health department officials to award a contract to the Health Workers Union via its training body, the Health Education Federation (HEF).
The contract in question involved training hospital staff to deal with violence against frontline health workers.
The 132-page IBAC report states that Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) staff were “unfairly pressured”.
2. There was not a competitive tender process
The report states that typical government processes were ignored.
“The DHHS policy would usually have required an open, competitive tender process to be adopted for a procurement that was of the value and complexity of the HEF contract,” the document states.
“The evidence uncovered in this investigation showed that most of these principles were breached in the processes used to award and manage the HEF training contract.”
3. The training given to health workers was poor
Page 28 of the IBAC report states that it was apparent from the outset to DHHS officials that the Health Workers Union was not equipped to deliver the training at the centre of the contract.
By the time the training was suspended in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 83 staff out of a planned 575 were trained.
“DHHS found HEF’s performance under the contract to be so poor that it was subsequently said by numerous witnesses, including former [health] minister [Jenny] Mikakos and [anonymous government staffer] Executive Officer A, to be a contract that should never have been awarded to HEF,” the report says.
4. ‘Concerning conduct’ exposed, but corruption threshold not reached
Operation Daintree did not find sufficient evidence to establish that any one person committed corrupt conduct as defined under the IBAC Act.
However, the final report did state that the investigation uncovered “concerning conduct”, including “failures to act” that were “in breach of the public duties and ethical obligations of ministers and ministerial advisors”.
“[The investigation] also identified conduct and omissions by senior public servants that fell short of the required Victorian public standards. IBAC considers that such conduct, if not addressed, makes Victoria more vulnerable to corrupt conduct as defined in the IBAC Act.”
5. Victoria has witnessed a ‘decline in standards of integrity’
The report says that most of the issues the watchdog identified are not new and reflect “the continuing decline in standards of integrity”.
“They are a further illustration of the significant deterioration in the observance of more traditional rules and conventions, which have affected the role and independence of ministers and their departments, and furthered the increasing influence of ministerial advisors and the centralisation of power in the PPO.”
The document also quotes Mikakos as saying the government is “very centralised with the PPO having its tentacles everywhere”.
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