Labor to move on opaque tender reporting processes

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

A Labor government would introduce new reporting requirements for government tenders, forcing agencies to provide more detail and consistency on the billions of dollars spent on external providers every year.

If Labor wins the coming election, government tenderers would be asked to provide more consistent information on the AusTender website to improve transparency and to better track spending. This would include more detailed contract descriptions and more consistent categorisation of contracts.

Entities would also need to provide reasons for any amendments and the total value of multi-year contracts, with the information required within 42 days, consistent with current procurement rules.

Entities that do not comply would be reported for breaching Commonwealth Procurement Rules.

Opposition Senator Jenny McAllister says a Labor government would improve AusTender contract disclosure

It follows numerous warnings about the outsourcing of core department work and the influence of unaccountable private consultancies, with a handful of the biggest firms now winning more than a billion dollars worth of contracts a year from the government.

Labor is also frustrated by the reluctance or flat-out refusal of current government ministers to provide more details on specific contracts, often resorting to questions on notice which routinely yield little information.

Anything purchased by the Australian Government that meets minimum cost threshold and is not subject to national security protections must be reported on the AusTender Website within 42 days of the agreement being signed.

However, the contract descriptions typically lack details, often described only with terms like advisory services or labour hire.

The Opposition wants this improves to drive more transparency about how the public money is being spent.

“Labor is deeply troubled by the explosion in the use of external labour under the Morrison government, including consultants,” Labor’s Senator Jenny McAllister told Parliament last week.

“Driven by the government’s arbitrary and damaging staffing cap, this expenditure is not only wasteful but it also undermines the capability of the Australian Public Service. We are also deeply concerned by the Morrison government’s approach to transparency, including in procurement and its engagement of external labour. That is why we have already announced plans to improve the disclosure of contracts on AusTender along with reforms to better track spending and contract extensions.”

InnovationAus confirmed these changes are slated to include more consistency in the way that contracts are described and categorised on AusTender, requiring the total value of multi-year contracts to be made public, requiring contract amendments be published with a reason for amendment, and regular reporting of entities that fail to comply.

Labor last week blocked a Greens Senate motion that would have forced the production of contract information and outputs for tenders awarded to the world’s biggest consulting firms, warning going that far would breach privacy and legitimate commercial in confidence protections.

Last financial year, there was $365 billion worth of active contracts across all agencies, according to published AusTender data. This includes contracts that started during the period, ended during the period, and started before the period and ended after the period.

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