Questions on the Watt Review


SUBJECTS: Watt Review

 QUESTION: Thank you, Speaker. My question is to the Minister for Government Services. What new information has been brought to the attention of government in relation to deficient procurement identified by the Watt Review and by other reviews of government services procurement?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Thank you. Members will recall that on November the 24th last year I updated the House on disturbing reports in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, about how the former Member for Fadden, Stuart Robert, used his status as a federal MP to assist undeclared Canberra lobbying firm Synergy 360 sign up corporate clients. The allegation was essentially that Synergy 360’s business model is that Mr. Robert was their sort of ace in the hole and could open doors for them.

Following these revelations, two agency heads initiated the Watt Review of procurement practices led by eminent former public servant Dr. Watt. One procurement, reviewed as part of the Wat review, was a massive multi-million-dollar contract awarded to software giant Infosys. That was to upgrade the welfare payments software, it was called the Entitlement Calculation Engine. Also, what has emerged is that Infosys, who got this big contract, had a commercial relationship with Synergy 360. Now, the ECE procurement was meant to transform the way welfare services were delivered in this country, and Infosys and its subsidiaries have been paid $126 million to do this. But after multiple delays and problems, Infosys never delivered what they promised. So, Services Australia has made a decision to stop throwing good money after bad and it's written off the former Liberal government's project at a total cost of $191 million to the taxpayer.

But today in the SMH and Age, there are reports that Stuart Robert frequently met with Infosys beginning in September 2018 when he was Assistant Treasurer and then as a recycled Cabinet Minister after 2019. And furthermore, in documents tendered to Mr. Hill's committee, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit by Infosys, it's revealed that on no less than 11 occasions, Mr. Robert met with Infosys with no probity adviser or APS representative in attendance and at least six of these meetings, miraculously, Synergy 360 was in attendance.

Now we know from Infosys testimony to public hearing that Infosys, who got $126 million from the former Coalition government, paid Synergy 360, $16 million. Of course, the other thing that we've learnt here is that somewhat decently Synergy 360 in 2017 they gave Mr. Roberts chief fundraiser in Queensland, Mr. Margerison, whereabouts unknown, they gave him a free 20% share of the lobbying company. So now this is where we're at. Mr. Robert’s left the building. Mr. Margerison has left the country. There's been $191 million splashed up against the proverbial wall of taxpayers’ money. Now the question is for the opposition and the Leader of the Opposition, what steps have you taken to satisfy yourself as to the probity of Mr. Robert’s conduct? Have you asked the Queensland LNP where Mr. Margerison is and is he still an LNP member? And will you repudiate Mr. Robert’s conduct?