Submission to the Senate Inquiry into management and assurance of integrity by consulting services

27 February 2024

The Business Council of Australia welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Senate Inquiry into management and assurance of integrity by consulting services. All government procurement contracts should be committed to and undertaken judiciously to ensure value for money for taxpayers and support a strong and capable Australian Public Service (APS).

The BCA supports the recently released APS Strategic Commissioning Framework, which will help build the skills, expertise, and capabilities of the APS. It also outlines when to rely on external support, which in turn is supported by the Commonwealth Procurement Framework to help effectively manage risk and maximise value for money from procurement.

The private sector plays an important role in complementing, supporting and building the skills and capabilities of the public sector when it seeks external support through procurement. It should not seek to replace public service capacity. Consulting services support the procurement process by providing access to specialised skills not otherwise available in the APS, access to temporary support, and independent research and assessments.

Trust and integrity in the procurement process is critical for protecting Commonwealth and taxpayer interests, as well as for the entities providing these services. Recent misconduct has reduced trust and highlighted regulatory gaps which government is seeking to address to restore public confidence and prevent a reoccurrence. All companies must meet their legal obligations and where arrangements do not keep pace with community norms, they should be reviewed. Both government and this Senate Inquiry have already identified potential areas for review and improvement in the procurement process. They include:

  •  The need for updated guidelines on the use of external expertise, which has been reflected in the recently released APS Strategic Commissioning Framework.
  •  The management of conflicts of interest, with a Department of Finance review looking to identify opportunities to strengthen the management of conflicts of interest in contracts.
  • A code of conduct framework with a clear and consistent set of definitions, expectations and accountability, with the Department of Finance currently consulting on a draft Commonwealth Supplier Code of Conduct.
  • Adequate and appropriate implementation of monitoring and enforcement measures to identify and manage potential conflicts or breaches, with the Department of Finance exploring options to improve transparency of contracts which have been terminated due to material breaches.
  •  Greater transparency to improve individual, organisation and industry accountability for performance and conduct, understanding of the procurement process and the treatment of potential conflicts of interest.

This inquiry will also contribute to other ongoing reviews, and recommendations should be calibrated to best address the specific issues raised. The range of existing reviews and actions currently underway represent an extensive set of actual and proposed reforms. Our position is that reforms that are directly responsive to the issues that have arisen should be implemented and reviewed before further steps are considered. This submission therefore directly responds to the inquiry’s terms of reference, with a mix of recommendations for existing reviews, new proposals, and calls for more effective and consistent implementation of existing policies and contract assurance practices. Updated guidelines or procurement rules should apply to all procuring entities to ensure consistency of regulations and obligations across the broader government services market, and ultimately, greater accountability for businesses that derive revenue from government programs. They should also be well targeted to address identified issues at least cost, and not be so burdensome as to create barriers to tendering for procurement contracts, particularly for small businesses.

Business also stands ready to support the development of procurement capability within government entities by sharing lessons on its experience with consulting partners. This can ultimately help lift the efficiency and effectiveness of government processes and enable an open, transparent, ‘level playing field’ and competitive market for procurement.

You can read our full submission here. 


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