How a meet-and-greet with a candidate for a high-profile new high school triggered a CCC inquiry and precipitated her fall from grace as deputy premier.
How a meet-and-greet with a candidate for a high-profile new high school triggered a CCC inquiry and precipitated her fall from grace as deputy premier.

Inside the meeting that triggered Trad’s downfall

IT'S 10.45am on a Friday and Jackie Trad is rushing to West End State School on electorate work.

It's the end of a long parliament week for the deputy premier, and March 29 is going to be a busy day with a Cabinet Budget Review Committee meeting and a speaking engagement that night.

It'll also be the day she attends a meeting that will ultimately cost her her job as Queensland's second most powerful woman.

At that moment, the South Brisbane MP receives a text message and looks down.

It's the people-pleasing Education Department Deputy Director-General Jeff Hunt, who's been dealing with the high-profile principal search for the new Inner City South State Secondary College that will be built a few kilometres away.

"Hi again Hey I just wanted to compare notes about the discussion with (Tracey Cook) this morning," he writes.

"(She) hasn't been advised she is the principal elect yet.

"Have painted this as an intro with local member (very nice and very important one at that) as part of the prominent appt process. Just wanted to give you the heads up. Ta."

Unbeknown to her, Trad is about to act as a "test" of Cook, the new principal-elect who has scored a job she never actually gets due to the incredible chain of events unfolding.

Although she's had the meeting sold to her as a "meet-and-greet", Trad is suddenly now aware the selection process isn't officially complete.

She apparently thinks nothing of it, having already been told the department has found their woman and knowing she'll need to work with her as the local MP.

 

A FATEFUL MEETING

Trad's "pretty tired" and a little late when she flies into her electorate office for that ill-fated 11.30am meeting.

Cook is there, having been instructed to "wear something nice" and "be yourself", but the meeting in which they discuss the school's direction doesn't go as well as the officials had hoped.

Trad's "lacking in warmth", "brusque", "curt or terse", "cold", "unhappy" and "in a bad mood", according to attendees.

Trad will later tell the Crime and Corruption Commission during their incredible seven-month investigation into the trainwreck recruitment process that she didn't intend to be cold and at no time decided Cook was not right for the job.

"I was tired and I had some significant events on in the afternoon and that night ... I try to make a good impression with people and if I failed on that day, I, you know," she said.

 

 

 

But Hunt and the public servant chairing the job panel are worried.

"I'm out. That wasn't too good was it," Hunt texts the chair afterwards.

"No it wasn't. I thought she didn't like (Cook)," she responds.

"We need to talk I think. I haven't heard from JT but it will come," Hunt writes.

"Yes I agree. It will be about being an EP (executive principal) level," the chair writes, referencing an position being voiced by some on the selection panel that the principal job should have been advertised at a higher-paying, more senior position.

University of Queensland Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj is one such panel member, although he never pushed for the role to be readvertised and had previously said he could work with Cook.

 

A SECOND CANDIDATE

Ultimately, Hunt decides to readvertise and lets Trad know of the change of plan on April 6 - eight days after the "meet-and-greet".

"Hi JT/DP/AP Re the principal gig - I think we should go out again and we will go out with it as an Exec Principal to see if we can attract a wider field," he texts. "You happy with that approach?"

She doesn't text back, but tells the CCC she was annoyed the appointment would now take longer.

The next day Trad calls Hunt for 40 seconds. Hunt says Trad agreed with his decision and stated she "wasn't filled with confidence" having met Cook.

Trad says she remarked that Cook had appeared "nervous and used a lot of education jargon" that was confusing, but couldn't recall whether she ever gave an opinion on Cook's suitability.

 

 

The key education department officials involved in the recruitment process alongside the two candidates.
The key education department officials involved in the recruitment process alongside the two candidates.

 

 

Hunt now texts Director-General Tony Cook: "Just heard from the DP. She is happy with the EP Plan and had low confidence in the person we introduced. Will now put that plan into action."

"Ok thanks for the update," the director-general responds, adding that he'll tell Education Minister Grace Grace.

Hunt later tells the CCC he alone made the decision and the Trad meeting only confirmed to him they didn't have the right candidate.

However, he admits Trad is a "demanding client", likes to be kept informed and lets him know when she's displeased.

 

 

 

 

LIES AND FUDGING

Tracey Cook is eventually told on April 26 she's missed out, and is incorrectly told it's because the school will now grow to 2000 students and will therefore need an executive principal.

In fact, the school is being built to open with 1500 students.

Despite a provision to appoint an executive principal in special circumstances, the department instead lies about its decisions and fudges enrolment figures as high as 2250 students to cover its actions and save face.

With Kirsten Ferdinands now identified as the successful candidate, Hunt texts Trad again, incredibly offering her another meeting before the decision's signed off on.

"Hi DP Hope you are doing ok after a torrid week or two. Have been worried about you," he writes.

"The selection panel has finalised the report for the inner south principal position - I think they are way happier than last time as am I.

"Do you want to meet the candidate again?

"Or will we just appoint and get on with it so they can start sooner as I understand you are heading off overseas.

"Let me know Take care. Ta"

Trad declines the meeting, telling the CCC she told Hunt she didn't have time and "we just need to get on with it".

 

DOUBLING DOWN

A strange and unethical selection process complete in late July, an anonymous email to the Opposition threatens to expose the fishy goings-on in parliament four months later.

But rather than come clean, the Education Department doubles down on its deceit, issuing a false media release and incorrectly briefing Education Minister Grace Grace so that ministers and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unintentionally mislead Parliament.

One public servant told the CCC they were "a little bit anxious" after the issues blew up in Parliament, knowing the department was "somewhat exposed" and there was "not the evidence" to justify its actions or enrolment figures.

Education Minister Grace Grace. Pictures: NCA NewsWire / David Kapernick
Education Minister Grace Grace. Pictures: NCA NewsWire / David Kapernick

 

Months earlier, Hunt's principal advisor had phoned the program director to tell them: "You have to change all documents from 1500 to 1600, everything, everything's got to be change, you've got to do it now."

It was done, despite concerns this would likely result in redesigns of the carpark, drop-and-go and bus zones and push back the project.

An email from a manager that put the request in writing was deleted on the instruction of a Hunt advisor but uncovered by the CCC.

 

OFF THE RAILS

Incredibly, CCC boss Alan MacSporran found public servants had tied themselves in knots over nothing , letting the process get completely "off the rails" when they could have simply decided they didn't like any of the first-round candidates and start again.

It's raised serious concerns about a public service apparently fearful of their political masters and operating for their own self-interest, rather than for Queenslanders - a situation with echoes of the Fitzgerald review.

Palaszczuk says she'll look at those cultural issues while the Public Service Commissioner decides whether disciplinary action is needed. Hunt did not comment.

Originally published as Inside the meeting that triggered Trad's downfall



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