Thursday, 21 May 2015

Darrel Fraser under the microscope at IBAC

From the Age Facebook page- Former Victorian Education department deputy secretary Darrell Fraser tried to choke a former department executive director who blew the whistle on "unethical practices", the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission was told.

Dr Stephen Brown, former executive director of literacy and numeracy and pegged as future department secretary, told the County Court on Wednesday that he instigated an internal audit of the banker school system, and left his job in 2010, after suspecting department officials were inappropriately using public school funds.

Dr Brown told IBAC he was invited to join Mr Fraser for lunch after announcing his departure to patch up their deteriorating relationship. 

They met at a hotel opposite St Andrews Place where Mr Fraser "launched out of his chair and tried to grab me by my throat," Dr Brown said. 

"So I grabbed his hand and pushed him away and said don't ever do that again."

Dr Brown raised his concerns with the department's head of audit in 2010, in relation to "completely unethical practice by a number of people in leadership at the time", and said he witnessed "constant behaviour that was inappropriate ... verging on bullying".

An "inner circle" comprising former regional director Ron Lake, former regional director Wayne Craig and sacked regional director John Allman, would meet to form an "agenda" before fortnightly meetings with other directors, Dr Brown said. 

Decisions made by the trio on the allocation of department funds at the meetings left "a number of us quizzical," said Dr Brown, who is now chief executive of the Queensland Education Leadership Institute.

He was also concerned that an administrative officer, who kept evidence of the banker school transactions locked in a draw, would regularly drive Mr Fraser to and from home, to regional events, and to lunch.

The employee also travelled with Mr Fraser to the US, which Dr Brown thought was "questionable".

Dr Brown described a severe lack of transparency and accountability around the banker school system. 

Department officials would go "bidding" for school funds at Treasury , after transferring excess government funds into banker schools to show they had spent their share. This would ensure that their budget was not slashed the following year, he said.

Another witness, the department's finance manager of the South-East region, Wayne Carmody, said he was aware that a $1 million school grant was given to Gus Napoli, who is the brother of Mr Napoli, and on leave from his role as principal of John Faulkner College. The school allegedly receiving the grant was not named.

Mr Carmody poured more than $36,000 into a non-banker school, Sale College, at Mr Napoli's request in 2010.

Of that fund, $26,400 was paid in allegedly false invoices addressed to companies owned by Mr Napoli's relatives, while department funds were also spent on expensive food and accommodation through the school. 

After learning of the IBAC investigation, Mr Napoli sent Mr Carmody brochures of department programs last year, with post-it notes backdated to years prior, in a bid to link the invoice paid by the school to the program.

The banker school system is now under investigation by IBAC, due to claims that more than $2.5 million of public funds were siphoned through banker schools to companies owned by the department's sacked financial officer Nino Napoli.

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