Dr Ian Watt, former head of the Public Service, has called for systemic changes to be made to the rules governing the $80 billion in annual Commonwealth procurements.
He warned that little has been improved in over a decade. InnovationAus reported, Dr Watt’s call for change came just hours before evidence was presented in a parliamentary inquiry that suggested former Coalition minister Stuart Robert could benefit financially from his friends’ company.
The company was alleged to have helped multinational companies secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. Dr Watt, head of Prime Minister and Cabinet from 2011 to 2014, urged the inquiry to recommend sweeping changes to all agencies by revising the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and introducing more accountability.
Dr Watt was called in late last year to review contracts linked to the alleged lobbying scandal involving Mr Robert, consulting firm Synergy 360 and technology vendors.
Dr Watt, whose review was limited to the actions of officials only and not the behaviour of the former minister, the firm or the vendors, found no clear misconduct but alarming patterns of poor procurement practices.
He said Federal spending was $80 billion annually on procurements – almost 5 per cent of GDP.
He told the inquiry a clean sweep was needed to systematically improve procurement issues.
“Really, there’s no solution short of doing this systematically across the board, for agencies as a whole… And I think really, it’s time for the Australian government, the Australian Public Service to look much more systematically these issues,” he told the inquiry.
He even said agency heads needed to take more accountability for procurements.
“It’s important that the government signal very clearly to agency heads that this is one of the things is going to bite you. And I think that would help,” he said.
“What I learned as an agency head was, quite simply, you may not have made the decisions that your predecessors made, but you’re responsible for them. And that I think is something that I think all agency heads should ponder over.
“I’m sure my colleagues will say ‘Well, that’s gratuitous advice and thank you very much.’ But it’s actually true.”