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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Doug Dingwall

'A concerning pattern': Agency contracts under the microscope

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announces a National Anti-Corruption Commission will be introduced to parliament | September 27, 2022 | ACM

A powerful federal committee will put the contracting practices of agencies under the microscope as a Labor MP says a series of damning audits has revealed a pattern of "cutting corners".

At least five Commonwealth agencies will be subject to a Parliamentary inquiry into procurement practices, Julian Hill, chair of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, has announced.

The up-and-coming Labor MP said he hopes the added scrutiny will improve transparency and deliver better value for taxpayer money.

Five scathing Auditor-General reports will form the starting point for the committee's inquiry.

This includes a probe of the Digital Transformation Agency's procurement of ICT related services, which found it had grown the scope of contracts with private companies.

The National Capital Authority also received a lashing after an inquiry found it handed out more than $20 million in limited contracts.

Mr Hill said agencies were cutting corners to "make life easier for themselves".

"There appears a concerning pattern of agencies cutting corners or interpreting the rules to suit themselves and make life easier for themselves, rather than apply the [rules] and let more people and firms bid," he said.

Chair of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit Julian Hill. Picture by Elesa Kurtz

"In recent years the Australian National Audit Office has too often found that Commonwealth agencies have failed to follow both the letter and the spirit of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules."

An Auditor-General's report on the Digital Transformation Agency found it had increased the value of one contract by 40 times.

It found the DTA did not adequately consider value for money when it varied contracts and overpaid suppliers.

DTA said it had achieved its intended goals and supported "critical delivery requirements" during the pandemic.

The NCA also came under fire by the Australian National Audit Office in a report, which said the agency lacked transparency, appropriate record-keeping and competitiveness.

Just 11 per cent of more than 300 contracts went through open tender.

The agency said it worked in a specialised area, requiring "unique or bespoke" assets and management systems.

Also under consideration is an inquiry into a maritime surveillance services contract, Defence's procurement of six patrol boats and the procurement of delivery partners for the Entrepreneurs' Programme.

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