​IBAC probes Victoria's Ultranet corruption claims

Officials involved in the botched AU$180 million Victorian schools IT project have faced the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission due to claims of their involvement with corruption.

Senior Victorian education department officials have come up against the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), facing claims of corruption regarding a scrapped $180 million state-wide IT project.

Spiked in 2013, electronic learning initiative Ultranet was created to bring an online education network to connect students, teachers, and parents by providing access to online learning materials and student information.

Ultranet was rarely used due to the amount of technical issues it faced from day one and the scheme was consequently scrapped when costs blew out from AU$60 million to AU$180 million.

The state's anti-corruption watchdog is investigating past and present senior Department of Education bureaucrats that were involved in the Ultranet scheme.

The IBAC hearing is expected to examine relationships between mostly former staff and companies awarded contracts to deliver Ultranet, and whether they received holidays and gifts during the tender process.

It was alleged on Monday at the inquiry that senior education department officials bought shares and took jobs with the company that was awarded the $60 million contract for the project.

The rollout of Ultranet began in 2010 with Darwin-based IT services firm CSG selected for the job.

Counsel assisting Ian Hill QC's opening address to the hearing said IBAC believed top-ranking education department officials used their positions to benefit from the failed project.

It was alleged that some officials had taken consulting roles with CSG with others becoming shareholders shortly before and after the contract was awarded.

Hill said, however, that none of them declared a conflict of interest.

In 2004, the Victorian Education Department started a research and development program to produce a proof-of-concept student-centric IT centre to support online teaching and learning. After finding no commercial system that matched the department's requirements, it talked to Oracle Australia and signed a research agreement with them in 2004.

From the agreement came the Students@Centre portal, which was trialled from January 2006 at 12 government schools in Melbourne with around 630 teachers, 10,000 students, and 300 parents. That proof of concept was decommissioned in March 2007.

Ultranet was then activated in May 2010 before being spiked three years later.

During the first day of the hearing, IBAC found that AU$1.4 million was spent on an opulent day-long presentation to introduce Ultranet to the state's school principals and deputy principals.

Hill questioned whether the million-dollar presentation at the Melbourne Convention Centre was a proper use of education department funds. He said that the Connections 2010 Big Day Out, which was held on August 9 of that year, was an opulent attempt to get staff on board the program despite its numerous technological glitches, including one that crashed the program the day before.

In a video of part of the presentation that was shown to the hearing on Monday, singers perform Madonna's song Material Girl with a few changes to the lyrics.

These changes include the line: "We're living in an virtual world and I am an Ultranet girl".

In November, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigated the actions undertaken by the former head of projects in the IT department at Sydney University.

It was alleged by the commission that Jason Meeth proactively advocated the use of a non-government approved IT supplier and profited AU$29,000 dishonestly from contracts he awarded.

ICAC alleged that Meeth hired nine contractors from Sydney-based Canberra Solutions despite the correct vetting and hiring procedures not being completed. According to ICAC, in the 18 months that Meeth was the head of projects for the IT department at Sydney University, Canberra Solutions was paid over AU$1.5 million by the university.

With AAP