Senate to probe tech sector’s ‘sovereign capability’

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Parliament will investigate “sovereign capability in the Australian tech sector” over six months next year after David Pocock had the issue referred to the Senate’s finance committee on Wednesday.

In a fruitful day for the independent Canberra senator, he also successfully moved orders for the production of documents about Defence’s data upgrade and personnel in the department as a discovery exercise for potential conflicts of interest with commercial technology suppliers.

Senator Pocock’s other successful motions mean the government has also been asked to hand over information about the scrapped $191 million welfare payments calculator, as well as information related to a suspected leak of consultants’ pricing to competitors last month.

Independent Senator David Pocock

The new inquiry into the local tech sector’s sovereign capability comes after growing unease about the government’s reliance on multinational suppliers, including the decision to trial Microsoft’s artificial intelligence across the public service.

Senator Pocock has been a vocal advocate for the local tech sector during his first term in the Senate, and is a fierce critic of how the current approach to government procurement could be doing more to build Australian capability.

“There are too many stories of larger companies with a history of selling to government hoovering up the opportunities, and then sub-contracting to these smaller companies – which actually have the staff and capabilities to do the work – but not before taking the cream off the top of the contract for themselves,” he wrote in the Capability Papers this year.

The Senate’s Finance and Public Administration References Committee will report on the local sector’s capability by June 30 next year, with a focus on how policy supports local tech suppliers, particularly smaller firms, opportunities for reform, and the impact of the Albanese government’s procurement reforms and targets.

The full terms of reference proposed are:

  1. The adequacy of current procurement policy settings across the Australian Government for supporting Australian tech companies, including but not limited to policies in the Digital Sourcing Framework;
  2. The challenges faced by smaller Australian tech companies in accessing public-sector procurement opportunities, including but not limited to through procurement panels;
  3. Opportunities for reform of government procurement policy settings to encourage the emergence and growth of more Australian tech companies;
  4. The use of non‑sovereign‑Australian tech across the Australian Public Service and the consequences of that usage on the strength of Australia’s tech sector;
  5. The effectiveness of the Buy Australia Plan in supporting Australian tech companies;
  6. The level of engagement and consultation between the Australian Government and Australian tech companies, including, but not limited to, through the Future Made in Australia Office;
  7. The existence and effectiveness of processes for tracking the performance of suppliers, measuring and reporting on the full and timely delivery of outcomes, and sharing information regarding supplier performance across different government departments and agencies; and
  8. Any other related matters.

Senator Pocock also successfully moved motions to force Defence minister Richard Marles to reveal how much has been committed to KPMG for its work on the ICT 2284 OneDefence Data program, and what the consulting giant has delivered so far.

KPMG was awarded the systems integrator contract for the program last year, which is expected to reap at least $55 million.

The order also includes a copy of a report prepared by Anchoram Consulting relating to the program.

In a separate order from Senator Pocock, the Senate also agreed that the Defence minister must also table a list of any conflicts of interest declared from 2014 to 2021 by Defence’s top technology leaders, including but not limited to, “any conflicts related to SAP and/or DXC Technology”.

Senator Pocock also found support for orders for the full closure report relating to the proof of concept for the Entitlement Calculation Engine that was built by Infosys but sensationally scrapped by Minister Bill Shorten this year after failing to get to a working level despite a $191 million spend.

Finance minister Katy Gallagher has also been asked to table information about a suspected breach of consultants’ pricing, which is provided to government buyers in confidence.

According to Senator Pocock’s order for documents, the MAS Supplier Matrix with Pricing of all 413 members of the Management Advisory Services panel may have been disclosed to 22 of the suppliers last month, including the biggest consultants, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC offshoot Scyne Advisory. has contacted the Finance department about this suspected breach but a response is yet to be provided.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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