Govt grants, tech projects and consultants in ANAO’s sights


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The national audit office has included a slew of government tech programs and the rapidly growing use of consultants in the public service among its potential inquiries for the coming year. Projects like the Modern Manufacturing grants scheme, the costly digital ID program, and the business registers project are among the potential audits.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) this week released its work plan for 2022-23, listing dozens of potential projects for scrutiny over this financial year.

Funding under the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) has been listed for a potential inquiry into whether the scheme was effective and complied with Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines.

In Opposition, Labor had been critical of the timings and decision-making process of the MMI, which committed more than $1 billion to manufacturers. The party warned the programs structure – which allowed the industry minister to consult with other ministers on the recipients recommended by the Industry department before the Prime Minister made a final decision – was “baking in” rorts.

Most of the grants were committed in the two months leading up to the election, with announcements regularly made during the campaign with local Coalition members.

InnovationAus.com has confirmed recipients which were announced in the lead up to the election have not yet signed contracts for the grant money, and are potentially at risk of losing the money under the new government’s review of Coalition Industry grants.

The ANAO may now conduct its own review of how the funding was awarded after listing the scheme for a potential audit in the next 12 months. The audit office has also listed several large government technology projects for potential scrutiny.

The long running Digital Identity scheme, now funded with more than $600 million over six years has again been shortlisted again.

The Digital Transformation Agency-led scheme began under the Turnbull government and is aims to provide identity verification across a range of government services and private sector offerings. It has been criticised for its design and slow progress, while the former government missed its own deadline for legislation to expand the scheme.

The ANAO is considering examining the “progress of the Digital Identity system’s implementation, design and functionality, including the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders and the allocation and expenditure of funding, including contract management”.

The Australian Taxation Office-led modernising business register program has also been shortlisted. The program is consolidating dozens of business registers into a new service and introducing director IDs, with a roll out expected to 2024.

Around half the programs $480 million budget has gone to just two companies, including Accenture collecting nearly $200 million for its role so far.

The ANAO audit would examine the “design, planning for and early implementation” of the business register program.

The use of consultant across government may also be examined in terms of value for money. The ANAO flagged a potential examination of the Business Advisory Services Panel as it winds up in October and services move to the Management Advisory Services Panel arrangement.

The 48-supplier panel includes global giants like Accenture, Deloitte and EY. It offers business advisory services available like scoping studies and other reviews, commercial transactions, and ad hoc commercial and/or financial based advice to 134 registered government agencies.

The audit office would examine the “extent to which entities’ use of the Business Advisory Services Panel supported the achievement of value for money”.

The Australian Digital Health Agency’s delivery of a safe, secure, and reliable digital health system has also been listed. The agency has been allocated significant funding for various technology projects, including a further $301.8 million for the ongoing development of the MyHealth Record portal in the 2021-22 budget.

The ANAO conducted a performance record of MyHealth Record in 2019, making several recommendations to the agency after finding it had failed to appropriately managed shared cybersecurity risks of the controversial system and paid millions for privacy assessments that were not completed.

An ANAO audit of the digital health agency would likely include progress on the recommendations, which the Australian Digital Health Agency told Parliament last year were largely already delivered or on track.

The suppliers to the controversial new Workforce Australia employment services model may also be put under the microscope.

The program, which replaces jobactive, offers employment services through private providers and requires users to attain a certain amount of points by completing activities such as applying for a job, in order to receive their payment.

It launched on Sunday and encountered several technical issues, but the ANAO audit would focus on the establishment of the Workforce Australia national panel and the selection of its initial 41 suppliers.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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