Texts show bureaucrats too eager to please
A PUBLIC service in the apparent thrall of Jackie Trad has been exposed in a corruption watchdog investigation, which found the then treasurer was made part of the unethical and inappropriate selection of a school principal.
A seven-month investigation that raised Fitzgerald-like concerns of a public service that was fearful of its political masters uncovered how a recruitment process was driven "off the rails" by public servants who interfered, lied and then falsified student enrolment figures to cover their tracks.
While Crime and Corruption Commission chairman Alan MacSporran found Ms Trad had not acted criminally or corruptly, and had been misled about her role in the shocking saga, her mistake in meeting with the principal-elect before she had been officially recruited had created a corruption risk.
The CCC report found Ms Trad was made part of the selection panel for the new Inner City South State Secondary College principal, in her South Brisbane electorate, when since-stood-down Education Queensland director-general Jeff Hunt concocted a plan to have her test out candidate Tracey Cook, without telling Ms Trad or Ms Cook the meeting's purpose.
A decision to appoint Ms Cook was then reversed after bureaucrats, including Mr Hunt, worried Ms Trad had seemed in a bad mood and didn't appear to like Ms Cook.
"I haven't heard from JT but it will come," Mr Hunt wrote in a text message after the meeting, at which attendees described Ms Trad as "lacking in warmth", "brusque", "curt or terse", "cold" and "unhappy".
Ms Trad denied those descriptors to the CCC.
Mr Hunt told the CCC he was not influenced by Ms Trad to not appoint Ms Cook and to readvertise the position at a higher executive principal level - a move that was taken after the concoction of new student enrolment figures.
But the CCC found it was "difficult to avoid the conclusion that the DDG was over-responsive and allowed either his perception of the Deputy Premier's view, or his desire to achieve an outcome that he believed would please her, to influence his decision-making".
In a warning to ministers, Mr MacSporran described the enormous power they wielded, even without meaning to.
Mr MacSporran said it was a mistake for Ms Trad to attend the meeting at her electorate office, as she had been told in a text message 45 minutes before that Ms Cook didn't yet know she had the job.
"I just would have thought, frankly, the radar should have been up a little bit more acutely," he said.
"These things happen, you get busy, you make these 'misjudgments' in our view, as we have termed it.
"Hindsight's a wonderful thing.
"The fact is, this is why you have to be acutely aware of the influence you carry in those senior positions."
An emotional Ms Trad, who quit the ministry because of the investigation, said she had been vindicated.
She said she felt used by public servants who ran the candidate by her, and disagreed with Mr MacSporran's description of her attendance at what she had been told was a meet-and-greet as a mistake.
"I had received a text message as I was busy going from one appointment to the next in my local electorate, and the text message read that the principal had not been told yet," Ms Trad said.
"So that did not raise in my mind that the process had not been complete, just that she had not yet been told that she was the principal-elect."
The report said a discussion on the politicisation of the public service was outside the scope of the report.
But it went on to quote the Fitzgerald report, noting: "A system which provides the Executive Government with control over the careers of public officials adds enormously to the pressures upon those who are even moderately ambitious."
Mr MacSporran said officials had got themselves into an unnecessary, "shocking hole".
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said it appeared a person had missed out on a job simply because of the mood of the deputy premier.
The Public Service Commissioner is now reviewing those public servants who had been identified, to consider whether any disciplinary action should be taken.
In a statement, an Education Department spokesman said the department was "carefully considering" the report.
The watchdog listed a number of recommendations including the creation of a new offence to ban publicising allegations of corrupt conduct during a state election period.
The watchdog had already proposed this for local government elections.
Originally published as Texts show bureaucrats too eager to please