Questions on the Watt Review


QUESTION: My question is to the Minister for Government Services. What were the findings of the Watt Review about probity and transparency in awarding government contracts?


A report by Dr Ian Watt AC and a taskforce were released on Friday. This is a report which was commissioned by the heads of Services Australia and the NDIA, on or around the 24th of November last year, to investigate matters which had been covered in the media about contracts awarded to and the procurement processes to an organisation called Synergy 360.

The report found that of the 95 procurements within the scope of the reviews, 19 were flagged for further investigation due to inconsistencies with Commonwealth procurement rules. Five of these were within the NDA and 14 within Services Australia. The total value of the 19 procurements requiring further investigation is approximately $374 million.

Many procurements, according to the reports, lacked appropriate conflict of interest. Documentation in accessible records and procurements have been poorly managed. There were actual potential or perceived conflicts of interests.

However, this morning, in light of the report by Dr Watt, there are disturbing reports in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald concerning decisions to award a government contract to Milo Consulting, also known as SYNERGY 360. Synergy 360 is partly owned by a Mr David Milo, who is a friend of the member for Fadden.

Another part owner of Synergy 360 is a Mr John Margerison, who was the long-time chairman of the Member for Fadden's fundraising body, the Fadden Forum. The reporting notes that a public servant who oversaw this procurement had a close relationship with one of the owners of Synergy 360 and Services Australia cannot identify any record of disclosure.

The contract, which was the focus of today's reporting, ran from the 23rd of May 2019 to the 28th of June. It began at just under $10,000 and it moved up to $30,000. This figure is significant because anything above $10,000 would have never been reported in AusTender.

There was another follow up Milo Consulting contract awarded to the value of $79,585. Again, this is a significant number. Procurements entered into over $80,000 are considered complex and would have needed to go to market.

The scope of this work was to advise the Department of Human Services and how to reform its identity verification systems. And at times before and after the Milo Consulting contract within the department, Milo Consulting was informing Infosys and Unisys bidders for Department of Human Services contracts on how to do so.

There are emails reported in December following the issuing of the Milo Consulting contracts that there were opportunities for to partner with Infosys to submit a joint bid response.

Again, in October of 2019, emails about the American giant Unisys that the Milo Consulting had found an opportunity. I wish the Watt Review would have come back clean. We've now got 19 contracts that warrant deeper and further investigations.

I think it's well past time for the Member for Fadden to explain these conflicts and the poor procurement practices on his watch concluded.