Former education minister Bronwyn Pike has been snared in phone taps telling a key figure in the Ultranet scandal that "things get blown up" after he discussed a suspicious $1 million payment.
In a secret phone recording obtained by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission, former education department deputy secretary Darrell Fraser told Ms Pike he had given $1 million to Ultranet provider CSG "on the quiet".
The former state Labor MP responded; "but you know how those things get blown
Ms Pike – the first former minister to front an IBAC hearing – said on Tuesday that her role as minister was "very hands off".
It was revealed that she was warned about probity issues involving the Ultranet, which cost an estimated $240 million, as early as 2008.
A former software company executive told the minister in an email that the tender process had been "unfair" and Mr Fraser was biased.
Ms Pike was told the sender was a "disgruntled bidder" and forwarded his concerns to the department.
"I didn't know who all the tenderers were because as a minister it's not my job to know those things," Ms Pike said.
"The minister is very hands off and has the responsibility of setting policy."
Ms Pike said she developed a "professional friendship" with Mr Fraser and acting secretary Jeff Rosewarne during her time as education minister under the Brumby government, between 2007 and 2010.
She socialised with the senior public officials out of work, even joining Mr Rosewarne for a Christmas dinner at his home.
Emails between Ms Pike and Mr Fraser showed that the then minister promised to "freeze" a critic of an extravagant $1.4 million event to launch the Ultranet. The event involved dancing girls and a $21,000 Ultranet bus, which Ms Pike said transported her just 20 metres.
The critic was Brian Burgess, the former president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, who asked his members whether they thought the money was well spent.
Fraser forwarded the email to Ms Pike, who responded, "thanks for that. We will freeze him. But I hope that other principals have the courage to chastise him."
She told the hearing that she regretted her words, and should have deleted the email.
Ms Pike was questioned about her knowledge of a secretive $1 million payment to Ultranet provider CSG which was used to prop up the project,
She said she did not know about the payment until reading IBAC transcripts, and did not know what Mr Fraser was talking about when he raised them in the phone conversation.
Mr Fraser wants to avoid a public hearing by giving his evidence to IBAC in private, or not at all. ( Well that shouldn't be allowed to happen!)
Earlier in the day, former education department secretary Peter Dawkins, who is now the vice-chancellor of Victoria University, told the hearing that concerns were raised with him about a "blokey, boozy" culture in department. But he said he never witnessed this behaviour first hand.
The hearing continues.
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I love this tweet from Henrietta Cook from The Age
My favourite phrase in #IBACDunham "Let me see if we can refresh your memory"