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Democracy, Government and Public Service in Australia, 2007
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Kevin Beck






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AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT - PUBLIC SERVICE EXPRESSION OF INTEREST AND TENDERING PROCESSES REQUIRE AN OVERHAUL

DOING BUSINESS WITH GOVERNMENT AND THE AUSTRALIAN PUBLIC SERVICE (APS)

IS ONEROUS, EXPENSIVE, TIME CONSUMING, PROBLEMATIC AND VERY COSTLY


? BACKGROUND REASON FOR PAPER

I have been involved in responding to many, and varied, Expressions of Interest (EOI) and Tenders (RFT) across many portfolio agencies of the Australian government, on behalf of Australian and multinational corporations who are small to medium enterprises and multi-billion dollar multi-national entities, since the eighties.

The content of this paper specifically refers to the development of systems, processes and procedures in the period 2000 - 2012 and mechanisms regrading doing business with government and its agencies. This paper is not government (Labor or Coalition) specific, it is agnostic.

The paper commentary, and opinions, is framed, inter alia, within a context where I acknowledge the following:

" Probity and tendering processes and rules

" Fairness and transparency

" Public Service Code of Conduct

" Commercial confidentiality

" Intellectual Property

" Cost of response

" Risk and requirements

" Value to government

" Value to tax payer

" Politics and policy

I do not believe that the current processes are common across the APS and quasi government enterprises, nor are they transparent. They do not, in my opinion provide value for money to all the parties involved and are favourable to the agency to the disadvantage of respondents. They exhibit an "all care but no responsibility and accountability mentality" in an environment where some aspects are parasitic on industry and commerce.


CONTENT RESPONSE SCHEDULES COMMON INFORMATION

The Commonwealth approach to tendering is far and away more sophisticated, and structured, than states and territories. Having said that it is far more costly for business to respond to EOIs and RFTs from the Commonwealth agencies than it is from the others.

The sheer production of a Commonwealth RFT requires reams of paper, a cast of thousands and a gaggle of lawyers and consultants all earning big bucks for their contribution. This takes an inordinate amount of time. Much of the document is superfluous and questionable. The documents are very legalistic, repetitive and onerous, with a plethora of seemingly unrealistic demands and detail request that are often irrelevant to the underlying intent of the exercise. They are prescriptively written to place the entire onus on the respondent with risk and accountability deflection away from the agency, permeating the document.

Schedules are often duplicated under different categories and parts of EOIs and RFTs. Each EOI, or RFT, is a single exercise in its own right. By this I mean that information, such as financial and corporate data and basic common information, presented in one response to an agency, is not available to other agencies even though the timeframes are current and relative e.g financial and corporate schedules cannot be referred to as being resident in some other EOI or RFT a company may have responded to. Additionally an agency, itself, cannot access the records of another agency in terms of their tenders to cross check and save everyone time, resources and money. Cross referencing databases is an exercise that agencies such as ATO and Centrelink do constantly in their own internal work so it is neither rocket science nor improbable to consider a similar cross referencing for Tenders and EOIs. Industry respondents should be able to simply refer the requesting agency to an EOI or RFT lodged with another agency, by ATD number, within a mandated time currency e.g 12 to eighteen months, with an attendant statement that nothing has materially changed in reference to that particular schedule request information.


INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Some within industry see the public service penchant for EOIs to be nothing more than having industry do the work of the public service. Rather than simply ask for general information the EOIs are seeking very detailed, often proprietary information, which, in the case of say Information technology, serves to enable in-house IT personnel to frame their own knowledge and their own internal bids. Some might disingenuously believe that tenders and EOIs are written to protect the longevity of employment of the IT personnel within the agency or the contractors engaged on the particular project. Transport Security (ports and airports and transport) within DIT (subject of a less than flattering audit) has been engaged in "looking" for years, they euphemistically call it "an environmental scan" of what industry has to offer. Delays, I think, are more a product of poor Ministerial policy guidance and national security focus than the Department's fault. It is like they are treading water waiting. One feels sorry for agencies where the decision making is beyond their control.

Whatever the excuses, EOIs, Environmental Scans or whatever, including RFTs, are very often blatant exercises in getting industry to do the leg work and the transfer of intellectual property to the agency without due compensation or consideration.

This is particularly troublesome where APS personnel involved in the EOI, or RFT, are contractors and consultants. The information sought goes well beyond what the assessment team needs to know to determine suitability for the task.

One might well argue that it is" references of assignments completed successfully" that are the major pointers to capability to do the job rather than filling out a detail schedule with diagrams and stories.


PRESCRIPTION AND DESCRIPTION - WINNERS AND LOSERS

In the case of information technology it is clear that many agencies, involved in large projects, are unable to actually define what they want and are unable to technically describe the exact solution being sought. Or they contain requirements which force respondents to deal with archaic infrastructure, old technology assets that the department may own and want to include or they specifically exclude items which would if included, collectively offer better value to government and the tax payer.

The inclusion of "risk demands" and "risk management models" which again are often extraneous to the actual fact that respondents have done projects of similar type elsewhere and onerous clauses transferring all risk to the respondent are seen as mechanisms to transfer risk. Not minimise risk, transfer it as much as possible away from the agency personnel.

Simply put politicians, and public servants, want the private sector to bear all of the risk and any loss to the taxpayer, or business, in engaging in wasted exercises appears to be of no consideration. There seems to be no mutual reciprocity, accountability or respect within the framework of the exercise. In these cases the winners are the lawyers and the contract/consultants.


BEARING ALL RISK

The agencies make demands that respondents adhere to stated timelines yet the agency itself usually fails to meet any of the time line benchmarks, is short on information and rarely provides bidders with an idea of status or what is occurring.

Then we have the abandoned projects like the Access Card. In the case of the Access Card a change of government, philosophy and policy, caused a loss of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayer and to industry without so much as "we are sorry". The labor politician who killed this project Ms Tanya Plibersek has, with her colleagues, contributed to significant loss and waste of taxpayer funds in programmes like pink batts, education revolution and others. All of these went through the business processes of government and public service. To be fair to the public service if politicians create a decline in professional standards, are poor performers as Ministers then this reflects on the service. They have to bite their tongues. They are required to serve the government without consideration of the public interest or outcome. They can advise but then if the Minister takes no notice it is bad luck for the taxpayer and the nation.

Others must say the obvious.

In one of my many discussions with the APS I suggested that since so much work had been done on that project the material should be used to inform other projects or to provide a benchmark for the APS to assess the capacity, of those who responded, for other work of significant value and complexity. I was informed that the tender responses were to be locked away never to be accessed again. What a waste on every scale and measure.

In the case of JP 2099 a project which the Department assessed to be valued at $100,000,000 and specified technologically to be in that range was cancelled after two years of respondent's work and short list on the grounds of poor value for money. Industry can only respond to what is published in the RFT and if the consultants writing the document are not up to the task then that is very problematic.


USING PROJECT FUNDS IN AGENCIES

With budget austerity, return on investment (productivity dividend) requirements by the government (a concocted internal book keeping exercise) and other restrictions, agencies are to my mind under pressure to be very creative. Thus a project presented to the Minister, and the Cabinet, for funding may be costed to allow for a host of internal running costs. Being blunt an agency might use up to 70% of the project value on internal activities with 30% left to actually acquire the goods and services from an external supplier.

TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP OR IS IT JUST A "CHEAP" MENTALITY?

Given the above proposition, agencies then find that they have to go cheap or they may have to then use a "value for money" excuse and cancel otherwise the practice described above will be exposed.

The internal costs of agencies, in doing work around EOIs and RFTs, are quite extraordinary (compared to what an outside organisation might expect to spend on the same sort of work) and the value for effort inside an agency may be considered by some people outside looking on, to be quite low in terms of productivity within the whole value of the project total budgeted cost approved by Cabinet. One might consider auditing what the actual ratio of internal cost to external (what is left over to actually buy the goods and services from tenders) is for each major project in RFTs for the past five years. What a shocker it might turn out to be.

Perceptions of industry may also be that the "bean counter" will have the final say. All things being equal these guardians of the money will simply ask who can do the job, at what price? Thus companies with no, or little history, in a particular project elsewhere of status in the world, in a consortium of well - respected firms, may win because they are cheaper. They may not fully comply.

Additionally they may have no longevity of business here in Australia, may be totally off shore and they will win against other firms who with a presence here, employing people and contributing to society and economy will lose. There is no regard of contribution or value. WTO rules, to which Australia may blindly comply, are not considerate of such principles. The government does have a buy Australian web site. It is puffery designed to look as if they are looking after the local industry. It is like much of politics - all for show, no real policy substance.

The risk, shifted to the contractor, provides an indemnity against accountability, and responsibility, to the APS, and the Minister, if it goes wrong. Thus the actual winner may be of little concern when compared to others who are contributing to the nation, the government and the APS.

There are cases where the RFT specifically states that a proven reference history is required for compliance but the chosen prime offer winner cannot demonstrate that compliance. Price takes precedence.

There is a distinct difference between total value (tangible and intangible) and price.


PRE KNOWN OR PRE DETERMINED OUTCOMES?

This is where industry does not bother to tender because they think they know the outcome has been predetermined.


Australian Government Victoria Queensland New South Wales


Governance, Public Policy, Decision Making and the Performance of The Power Collective in Australia

The material on this web site predominantly comments on decisions, actions and perceived performance politicians and bureaucrats. However there are some overlaps with decision makers and behaviour within the corporate sector. It provides a range of sources to give a broad perspective to the reader, and student, of politics and democracy.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Australia

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The Hung Australian Parliament.




December 2007 and Kevin Rudd Sits in the PM's Chair


Let us hope that the labor government will address the matters set out below in the commentary on corruption and corrosion. The refugees of the nation can sleep easy in the knowledge that they will not be summarily deported by an ignorant low grade ministry and bureaucracy. Kevin Andrews, the former liberal minister, stills sits in the parliament unfortunatley along with another former draconian minister Philip Ruddock. These people hold seats in parliament demonstrating that unthinking, and ignorant, people are allowed vote in a democracy. There is much to fix and much to do to eliminate the cancer that the Howard government and the Ministers of his era implanted in the nation.



A CORRODED NEUTERED PUBLIC SERVICE SYSTEM
IN NEED OF REFORM


Australia's primary public policy forums, the parliaments, are the province of two major political parties (labor and liberal) and a handful of political power brokers. Information, and participation. is tightly controlled. Citizens are denied full access and secrecy and barriers to discovery and accountability are the hallmarks of Australia's corrupted processes. Anyone who criticises, challenges or actively works against this power collective are seen as rocking the boat. They are the enemy to be treated accordingly. They are subjected to denigration, dismissal, ridicule or worse, active retaliation. The state versus the citizen is not the exception, it is the rule. Whistle blowers are not lauded as guardians of the public interest. They are made examples of by a craven body politic and this includes the public service. This web page sets out examples and provides a forum for monitoring public policy. There are links to active utilities designed to counter this manipulation of Australia's democratic systems. This corrosive control is being challenged.



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The Australian government has unveiled its planned changes to workplace relations and labour laws in Australia. To promote awareness the following information, and resources, on Australian and international labour laws is provided the Australian government has no public record of creating innovation and visionary public policy and systems, nor legislation designed to harness Australia's human resource talent. The Job Network has been close to financial crisis on too many occaions requiring injection of funds and its performance statistics have been fashioned for fiction rather than fact. The Australian government spends an inordinate amount of energy and public funds on control and perception manipulation.

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