Procurement inquiry to scrutinise lobby-linked tech contracts

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The suppliers and government agencies linked to an emerging lobbying scandal may be called before a parliamentary inquiry within weeks to explain the influence of a consulting firm linked to former minister Stuart Robert.

Parliament’s Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit has added the matter, including the findings of an internal review released this week, to its current procurement inquiry.

Government Services minister Bill Shorten wrote to the committee asking it to take a closer look at the emerging scandal because the internal review had only focused on the conduct of public servants but not the companies or Mr Robert.

Mr Robert has denied any wrongdoing or involvement in the procurements, and says the internal review, which found no “clear misconduct” of officials, should have ended the matter.

The review found a fifth of the procurements it examined had either conflicts of interest, poor value for money consideration or inadequate records, and recommended 19 of them worth $374 million be further investigated.

Chair of the public accounts and audit committee Julian Hill told the committee had agreed to seek evidence from head of the federal public service Ian Watt, who led the internal review, the agencies involved – Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency – and certain contractors.

The Committee will focus on five contracts found in the internal review to be of a “lower standard” compared to usual practices and that were part of the 19 procurements the review recommended be investigated further.

These contracts are understood to include Indian tech company Infosys and Milo Consulting which trades as Synergy360.

Synergy 360 is owned by Mr Robert’s close friend and political fundraiser. In addition to winning its own contract from Services Australia, the company provided consulting services for several firms bidding for work at the agencies during Mr Robert’s time as a backbencher and a minister, according to an investigation by the Nine newspapers which claims Mr Robert secretly provided advice to Synergy360.

The media reports triggered the internal review by Dr Watt, which found real conflicts of interest in some of the procurements involving the companies linked to Synergy360 and recommended further investigation into them.

Mr Hill, whose committee has been probing several other controversial government procurements, told that the Watt review appeared to be another example of “what not to do” in Commonwealth procurement.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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