IBAC has released the Operation Lansdowne report that involved investigations of misconduct within Victorian vocational education and training, and public transport sectors.
The report focuses on allegations of dealings at Bendigo Kangan Institute of TAFE and South West TAFE, including external agreements between them and TayTell Pty Ltd.
It found that TayTell Pty Ltd Owner and Director, Ms Rebecca Taylor oversaw a scam where she was able to receive more than $2 million of government funding for training that never eventuated.
The IBAC investigation estimates Bendigo Kangan obtained in excess of $400,000 of government funding from third-party arrangements with TayTell Pty Ltd.
In 2014 Ms Taylor entered into an agreement with Kangan where TayTell Pty Ltd was to enroll a group of Jetstar employees in the Certificate IV in Engineering.
“TayTell would submit enrollment, training and assessment records to Kangan to process and Kangan would claim government subsidies for the training. TayTell would receive 70 per cent of the funds; Kangan would keep 30 per cent,” the report outlined.
However, no one from Bendigo Kangan supervised the training. The report said it was a “scam” devised by Ms Taylor.
Bendigo Kangan released a press release that acknowledged full acceptance of all the recommendations made in the report.
“We will now review the full IBAC report, implement its recommendations, and undertake additional initiatives and safeguards.”
In a press release South West TAFE CEO, Mark Fidge and Board Chair Felicity Melican said the Institute would learn from the IBAC findings and was committed to implementing continuous improvements across the organisation.
Suggested within the report is that specific Bendigo Kangan officers who were involved breached compliance requirements which resulted in enrollments being processed outside of the correct procedure.
Students eventually contacted Bendigo Kangan after they received statements of attainment for studies they had not initiated and were completely unaware they had been ever been enrolled in the course.
IBAC launched Operation Lansdowne in 2015, and in 2016 expanded their investigation to include Bendigo Kangan Institute of TAFE after credible information emerged of TayTell Pty Ltd dishonestly obtaining government funding.
Ms Taylor was awarded a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and a Certificate IV in Engineering by South West TAFE, despite the TayTell Pty Ltd director not being qualified.
It was alleged this was undertaken to aid in the facilitation of a third-party agreement for the consignment of training by TayTell Pty Ltd on behalf of the TAFE.
Within the report is evidence of an exchange of text messages between Ms Taylor and her daughter, Heather Taylor, regarding how best to cover up elements of the misconduct.
The text messages read:
3/7/2013 4:25 pm (Rebecca Taylor): Excellent… Just a quick thought how are we showing that we checked off the language and literacy requirements?
3/7/2013 4:26 pm (Heather Taylor): Mmm can do a quick test as part of enrolment I think I have one from old work
3/7/2013 4:38 pm (Rebecca Taylor): We will need to do show something to satisfy requirements… Crap
3/7/2013 4:38 pm (Heather Taylor): OK no problem I’ll have it sorted by tomorrow
30/8/2013 6:11 am (Rebecca Taylor): Friday the 13th Sept is our deadline for the folders… We must have them done. Can you make up an extra 20 for the additional that Nicky has done the last few days and I will get them from her…Chaching..$$$
Rebecca Taylor worked at Metro Trains Melbourne from April 2010 to September 2012, and during this time she befriended colleagues Alan Clifford, his partner Nicola Spiers and Margaret Jarvie.
Ms Spiers and Ms Jarvie involvement was sourcing ‘students’ and obtaining their personal information for the purpose of completing the enrollments.
The investigation expanded again in May 2016 when it emerged the then General Manager of Rolling Stock at V/Line, Alan Clifford, had engaged Ms Taylor to deliver training and other work at V/Line.
A focus of the investigation are circumstances surrounding the recruitment process of some employees and contractors at V/Line, which included Ms Taylor. It has been identified that between 2013 and 2016 there was a “clique” of senior V/Line officers who willfully placed “undue emphasis” on certain people and personal friendships during the process.
The report found an environment at V/Line where there were obvious conflicts of interest that were never identified or poorly managed, which allowed for a culture of “cronyism to flourish” within the organisation.
Some recommendations in the report on how to manage these issues in the future:
The CEOs of South West Institute of TAFE and Bendigo Kangan Institute of TAFE to provide IBAC with reports on how they have managed the issues raised in Operation Lansdowne.
The Secretary of the Department of Education and Training must provide a report that includes planning to strengthen TAFE systems and controls.
Ensuring TAFEs understand obligations under service agreements with the Department, strengthening proof of identity requirements for Victorian students, raising awareness about misconduct and fraud risks, and ensuring TAFEs have strong internal/external complaint handling report systems.
A review of how TAFE training is delivered via third-party agreements and the requirements to demonstrate the validity of the specific training.
The V/Line CEO must report on what the organisation will do to improve its standards of procurement, recruitment and management of conflict of interest.