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Integrity optional: bureaucrats behaving badly

Public administration in Australia is, for the most part, done by the book.

But there are exceptions, with a few big stories hitting the headlines recently.

‘You abused the trust placed in public servants’

A former transport official has been sentenced to eight years and nine months for his part in a contracting scam that saw him illegally make at least $1.38 million.

Ex-Public Transport Victoria senior executive Barry Wells admitted to giving contracts to companies he had undisclosed involvement or ownership in, alongside colleague Albert Ooi, who was sentenced to eight years in gaol earlier this year after pleading guilty.

The corrupt activity took place over a space of seven years, during which time 251 contracts were awarded, and was discovered through tapped phone calls in 2014. The crimes took place while he was employed at the Department of Transport, the Department of Infrastructure and Public Transport Victoria.

The scam was “well orchestrated, devious and sustained” said Justice John Dixon, according to a report by the ABC.

“Corruption of this kind strikes at the heart of our civilised democracy,” he stated.

It is impossible to know exactly how much taxpayers’ money was lost and whether the state paid more than it should have, Dixon added.

“You abused the trust placed in public servants by the community,” he said.

Wells and Ooi used the money on repaying mortgages and gifts including a grand piano and a jet ski named “Bazdawgs”.

‘Chief geek’ arrested in SA

The South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet has been left red-faced after discovering chief information officer Veronica Theriault had allegedly lied about her employment history to get the job.

Theriault was arrested last week by ICAC officers and charged with deception, dishonestly dealing with documents and abuse of public office. She was sacked on Tuesday, ABC reports.

A LinkedIn page under the name Veronica Theriault lists four years of experience as “chief geek” at Wotif.com, though the company states she was never employed there, says the ABC.

She had been in the DPC job less than two months before being sacked and charged.

Her brother, Alan Corkhill, was also charged with deception and aiding and abetting after he obtained a DPC job under her direction.

Premier Jay Weatherill said he could not rule out other public servants involved in the hiring being punished, but was waiting to see the results of an internal review.

Following the discovery of Theriault’s alleged fraud, DPC boss Don Russell requested a review, which found that two executives hired in 2011 had relied on forged qualifications, reports The Advertiser.

Both were employed in Shared Services.

The first, an executive hired in a competitive process that included an external recruitment agency, was suspended in September 2012 for misconduct, and then resigned.

The second was fired during his probation period over unsatisfactory performance and incorrect statements relating to his job application. A certified copy of qualifications he had initially provided was later found to be fake.

Russell said he had ordered detailed police and security checks for senior bureaucratic appointees. The department will conduct “increased verification” of work history and qualifications as well as “forensic investigation of candidates’ social media profiles”, he said.

DPC will also ensure selection panel members are aware of best practice and due diligence obligations when screening candidates.

Quarantine official helped secret clients get around regulations

A food quarantine inspector at the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources ran a secret consulting business and helped customers get past biosecurity rules, a report has revealed.

The officer used their position to recruit clients, and did not notify the department about the conflict of interest, according to a report recently released by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

The public servant completed mandatory qualification tests on behalf of clients, despite their not having completed training.

The officer’s company made around $190,000 in gross revenue across the five years it was operating.

NT Health CIO departs, police involved

And police are looking into goings on at the Northern Territory Health Department.

Department CIO Stephen Moo, who is responsible for overseeing a $259 million IT project, left his job abruptly this month.

There is no word on why, but a referral has been made to the NT Police unit that looks at sensitive political matters including conflicts of interest and corruption, the NT News reports.

Moo has not been charged.

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He's previously written for The Guardian and Crikey and holds a masters in international relations.