Revealed: Anonymous letter that triggered Trad probe

 

THIS is the letter that sparked it all.

Anonymous and just 101 words long, it's the kind of correspondence political and media offices receive every other day.

Yet the claim it contains has now sparked the biggest internal crisis to strike the current State Labor Government since its inception, forcing powerful Deputy Premier Jackie Trad to stand aside as treasurer yesterday and potentially ending her controversial career.

The letter, dated September 4, claims Ms Trad potentially interfered with the selection process for the principal of the new Inner City South Secondary College in her South Brisbane electorate.

"Approximately two months ago a panel chaired by the Department of Education selected the new principal which was awarded to Tracey Cook. Shortly afterwards Tracey Cook was forced to meet with Jackie Trad in her office, alongside the regional director Helen Kenworthy from (the Department of Education)," it reads.

"Shortly after this the position was readvertised and a different person was awarded the position of principal approximately a month ago."

 

The anonymous letter that triggered the latest integrity crisis. Picture: 7 News
The anonymous letter that triggered the latest integrity crisis. Picture: 7 News

 

Letters such as these are often ill-founded - or just plain wrong.

But a Right to Information search by the Opposition found evidence that the meeting occurred sometime last April.

Eighty days after receiving the letter, the Opposition decided to roll the dice on a question in Parliament.

Ms Trad immediately rejected the premise of the Opposition's question that she'd interfered in the selection process.

"I have never interfered in a recruitment process, and particularly in relation to this one," she angrily declared in Parliament.

Ms Trad went so far as to suggest the letter, which was tendered in Parliament, may have even been manufactured by the Opposition offices.

"There was an anonymous tip-off, probably produced in the Leader of the Opposition's office, (a) no header, nothing tip-off, which is just another LNP dump," she continued.

However, in an extraordinary revelation, Ms Trad did confirm that a meeting took place, as well as another meeting months later that few knew about, with the woman chosen to replace Ms Cook, Kirsten Ferdinands.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Ms Ferdinands.

"The advice I received from the Minister for Education (Grace Grace) was that the director-general had changed his mind in relation to the appointment…" Ms Trad told Parliament.

The LNP had rolled the dice and its number had come in. It meant the letter, at least in part, was right.

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An independent selection panel had picked Ms Cook. But after meeting with Ms Trad, the experienced principal was told it was all off and the process would begin again.

The Government knew it had an issue on its hands.

The next morning, November 28, Department of Education director-general Tony Cook (no relation) undertook the unusual step of releasing a detailed statement. "I have been advised that while the panel had approved the appointment, new demographic modelling indicated the school would exceed 1600 students and be eligible for an executive principal position," he said. "Therefore no offer of appointment was made."

The role was readvertised in May. The same people applied for the job. The same panel convened.

However, this time it came up with a different outcome.

Nothing to see here, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Ms Trad and Education Minister Grace Grace all insisted in Parliament, quoting from Mr Cook's statement.

However, there was at least something to see and it was a video on Ms Trad's Facebook page from September 2 which featured Ms Trad and Ms Grace announcing Ms Ferdinands as the principal chosen for the much-hyped new school.

Splashed across the footage was the Labor Party's logo, which was later removed.

That was the final sitting day of State Parliament for 2019 before a 10-week recess.

And all anyone was talking about was how there's something askew with the whole school story.

Politicians just don't get to meet prospective principals of schools in their electorates.

 

Member for South Brisbane Jackie Trad (right) with Education Minister Grace Grace (left) and Inner City South State Secondary College foundation principal Kirsten Ferdinands
Member for South Brisbane Jackie Trad (right) with Education Minister Grace Grace (left) and Inner City South State Secondary College foundation principal Kirsten Ferdinands

 

It's unheard of, even for just 15 minutes like the meeting between Ms Trad and Ms Cook.

Still, while the matter had been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission by the Opposition, few imagined it would amount to much.

The Opposition chipped away when Parliament returned without getting far.

However, the issue exploded again on February 18 following two very pertinent questions by the LNP.

First, Opposition frontbencher Jarrod Bleijie asked whether Ms Trad exchanged any text messages with senior education bureaucrats about the principal selection process.

And then the Opposition's John-Paul Langbroek queried Ms Palaszczuk about how new demographic data could have forced the principal selection process to be abandoned in May when an RTI search showed the latest information was available in January, the same month that the initial recruitment process occurred.

Ms Trad scoffed at Mr Bleijie's question, joking that he was probably still sharing daily texts with former premier Campbell Newman, but she did not deny his claim.

However, Ms Palaszczuk trod far more carefully, confirming a January study contained new demographic data while the school's final footprint was confirmed in March.

The Premier's response created more questions than it answered and prompted another Opposition letter to the CCC. Why did the first recruitment process supposedly not apply the latest information about the future school?

Why did Ms Trad meet with the panel's preferred candidate in April before the position was readvertised in May?

If Ms Ferdinands applied during the first selection process why did she only win it the second time around after the position was upgraded?

And why was Ms Trad offered an opportunity to talk to her also?

 

 

With public service selection processes protected by law, these are the questions the CCC will now want answered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsuccessful candidate for principal Tracey Cook
Unsuccessful candidate for principal Tracey Cook

 

Opposition education spokesman Jarrod Bleijie
Opposition education spokesman Jarrod Bleijie

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