IBAC slaps senior health officials over handling of $1.2m contract

A corruption inquiry has found breaches by senior Victorian public servants in the awarding of a $1.2 million health department training contract.

Acting IBAC Commissioner Stephen Farrow

Responding to a whistleblower complaint, the state’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission found a senior advisor to the health minister in 2018 pressured health department staff to award the contract to a union-affiliated organisation, and that senior executives failed to provide frank advice about their doubts to the minister.

IBAC didn’t find evidence of corruption, but said the procurement process and management of the contract had been compromised by improper influence from advisers and that the conduct of senior bureaucrats in awarding it fell short of public sector standards.

“The report highlights the risks arising from failures of senior public sector officials to give frank – and potentially unwelcome – advice to their minister,” acting IBAC Commssioner Stephen Farrow said.

The evidence from the investigation provided “a powerful example of the apparent increase in the pliability of the public service,” he added.

No competitive procurement process

IBAC’s report, tabled on Wednesday, says the contract for occupational violence and  aggression training for 575 health workers was awarded in October 2018 to the Health Education Federation (HEF).

It came after the Health Workers Union approached the government with an unsolicited proposal to provide that training through the HEF – a body newly established by the union.

The contract was awarded without going through a competitive procurement process.

The investigation found the union got favourable treatment in accessing the minister’s office, and that conflicts of interest weren’t properly managed or declared, and ministerial advisors ‘improperly intervened’ in the department’s procurement processes.

DHHS staff concerned

IBAC found Department of Health and Human Services staff had concerns about the proposal, including the capacity of HEF to deliver it.

However, despite these concerns a deputy secretary – ‘Executive Officer A’ – decided the minister didn’t need to provide instructions on the procurement process and authorised a non-competitive process handing the contract to the HEF.

The report highlights the risks arising from failures of senior public sector officials to give frank – and potentially unwelcome – advice to their minister.


“The DHHS awarded the contract to HEF without a competitive procurement process due to senior staff in the department believing it was the minister’s and government’s preference, and because of ongoing pressure from both the Minister for Health’s advisor and Secretary of the union,” Mr Farrow said.

Meanwhile, senior executives within the department “disregarded the concerns of their staff, failed to provide frank advice to the minister and allowed their perception of the minister’s preference to affect the decision to award the contract to HEF”.

Serious concerns

IBAC found that after the contract was awarded there were ‘serious concerns’ about the standard of training, but intervention on two occasions by another ministerial adviser dissuaded DHHS from terminating the contract.

Between October 2018 and March 2020 when Covid ended the contract, HEF trained only 83 of the planned 575 staff, and IBAC found the quality of that training was poor. All up, the HEF pocketed $335,000 for its efforts.

IBAC makes 17 recommendations, including that the government introduces legislation requiring the DPC Secretary or the Victorian Public Sector Commission to report annually on the number of ministerial advisors employed and the total cost of employing them.

IBAC has asked the government to report to parliament on the actions it’s taken in response to the recommendations by October 31, with a follow-up report by July next year.

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2 thoughts on “IBAC slaps senior health officials over handling of $1.2m contract

  1. I agree with you Glenys here totally. I truly wonder what the definition of corruption here is in Victoria at the political level, particularly after this result and the outcome into the casino inquiries and Royal Commissions around the country and other inquiries.

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