Victorian Labor distances itself from Ultranet failure

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Victorian Labor distances itself from Ultranet failure

Puts alleged probity failures down to “individual actions”.

The Victorian Labor Party has used revelations of alleged suspect dealings inside the state's Department of Education to distance itself from the expensive failure of its now defunct Ultranet program.

A spokesman for deputy leader and shadow education minister James Merlino told iTnews that the findings of an internal investigation into the matter, published yesterday by Fairfax, point to the project being undermined by the “actions of individuals”.

Ultranet was kicked off late in 2006 by the then-Labor government, promoted as a single state-wide e-learning system and intranet for schools, set to cost $60.5 million. IT provider CSG won the contract to roll out the system, based on Oracle education software.

The troubled program was halted last year by the Coalition, and is now set to become one of the first targets of a major investigation by the state’s new corruption watchdog, IBAC.

According to the Fairfax report, senior education executives working on the Ultranet project bought shares in CSG – with at least one allegedly doing so prior to the announcement of its selection as systems integrator.

The report also pointed to links between the owners of Cinglevue, the Oracle reseller acquired for $5 million by CSG prior to the win, and senior education executives heading the rollout.

These same executives went on to be hired by CSG.

CSG has since been acquired by NEC which declined to comment on the claims.

The Labor spokesman said the latest revelations meant responsibility for the scheme’s troubles could’nt necessarily be hung on the government at the time.

“Obviously if these individuals have lied and done the wrong thing then they should feel the full weight of the law,” he said.

But the Coalition attacked Labor’s efforts to distance itself from the project, which it said ultimately cost the state $120 million more than originally planned.

Education Minister Martin Dixon today described Ultranet as “an absolute dog of a program”.

“For Labor to come out and to say it has nothing to do with them is just incredible,” he told press yesterday.

“They have their fingerprints all over Ultranet. They were responsible for the management of Ultranet, and they were responsible for the $120 million blowout."

Dixon refused to give any details on whether any employees of the department had or were set to lose their job as a result of the investigation.

“There have been a range of individuals that have been investigated by IBAC, so I won't comment on their past or present employment status because that investigation is ongoing,” he said.

Since the closure of the Ultranet scheme last year, the government has left it up to school principals to decide whether to go ahead with alternative elearning solutions.

“We give our schools a budget and we trust our principals to make the right decisions about what IT programs and systems to use, and that is what they are doing,” Dixon said.

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