11 May 2015

In Victoria, the Independent Body Against Corruption has a substantial issue to prove its worth. The State was reluctant to adopt the ICAC model with a broad jurisdiction, and proposals for an anti corruption commission were slow in coming to fruition.  But the appalling lack of integrity shown at the top of the Victorian Education Department over a number of years has given IBAC a platform of considerable public interest.

The manipulation of education funding for the personal advantage of some senior executives, their friends and relations, has been whispered about for some time, but only with the IBAC hearings which began two weeks ago, has there been public awareness of the extent of the fraud and of the principals who took no action despite corruption payments being channelled through their schools.

A former Secretary of the Department, a chief finance officer  and a regional director of Education appear to have hidden payments in the accounts of “banker schools”, not for use by the school, but to be redirected for their personal advantage.

There was a hint of the seriousness of corruption when following last year’s election Victoria’s new Administration introduced machinery of government changes – although the amalgamation of Education with the portfolios of Training and Young Children  did not stand out among the other moves to reduce the number of departments.  The appointment to the Secretary position earlier this year of Gill Callister, moving from the role of Secretary of the Victorian Department of Human Resources perhaps foreshadowed the major staffing problems anticipated being exposed by the IBAC inquiry. Ms Callister is the current Victorian Branch President of the Institute of Public Administration Australia – the equivalent of IPANZ

Last week she told departmental staff that in addition to evidence of previous senior management running a culture of largess with impunity, there would be further shocking revelations over the next few weeks.  She spoke of deplorable misuse of departmental funding deserving public outrage.

It is probable that the influence of those senior managers (who not surprisingly no longer work for the Victorian public service) will have created a tail of corruption in schools and the education administration. This illustrates the importance of senior managers walking the talk. The Education Department had integrity standards. Information and training was given to staff. Integrity seems to have been something that senior managers talked about. That was not their reality. Among other advantages, they and spouses had personal travel to Europe, furniture, and cellars of wine, funded by the department.

“…If it wasn’t being slowly exposed in a corruption inquiry… many Victorian parents would struggle to believe the evidence about how large sums of money meant for the state’s school system have been systemically rorted by two allegedly corrupt officials…”