Robert Schwarten
Robert Schwarten

Schwarten defends govt's decsion on IBM at payroll inquiry

FORMER Public Works Minister Rob Schwarten has told an inquiry into Queensland's bungled health payroll system that striking a deal with contractor IBM was better than "someone hanging themselves because they didn't get paid".

The State Government's decision not to pursue IBM for damages, over the series system glitches which left thousands of Queensland Health workers unpaid or overpaid in 2010, is expected to cost taxpayers more than $1.2billon.

Defending the government's decision not to break its contract with IBM earlier, Mr Schwarten said that "had the backside fallen out of the whole thing", the consequences could have been catastrohphic and that it didn't come "much closer to the bone of government" than employees not being paid.

Describing his displeasure at being slapped with the responsibility of overseeing the payroll system, Mr Schwarten said the easiest political route out of the crisis would have been to "blame IBM, go out and flog them to death" but that the risk of going through a protracted legal battle while someone "had a rope around their neck" was too great.

Earlier, former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told the inquiry that from as early as 2007-08 there had been rumblings from government departments about the problems of working with IBM but said a resistance to change to a centralised system was "natural" and not "above and beyond the norm".

She said she was concerned about the timing, delays and cost of the project but could not recall a discussion about looking for a new vendor.

By March 2010, when the system went live, Ms Bligh was aware of "teething problems" but by the second pay cycle she realised "the problems were entrenched and people were searching for answers".

She said that given her time again, her decision to settle with IBM instead of pursuing legal action would remain unchanged.

"I was advised about the strong contractual grounds we had but that had to be balanced with considering the practical consequences of the payroll system," Ms Bligh said

"I had an obligation to the people who were suffering with the system and considered them in my decision."

At the time of the controversy IBM was responsible for 30% of the government's information technology.

The inquiry is expected to report back in July.