The Prime Minister often remarks, particularly in the parliament that her Labor Government are “getting things done” and the number of bills passed obviously does bear out this argument, although this does equal more regulation and “red tape” for business and the individual. It can also, by implication mean that policies and programs are being rushed and established processes not being followed correctly as has been alleged on a number of times over the period of both the Rudd and Gillard Government’s.
This argument is also borne out in the case of the Australia Network tender process which was deeply flawed, rushed, changed and awarded to the ABC in perpetuity despite recommendations to the contrary.
Today the Auditor-General released a report into the botched tender process which does not make for good reading for a government that is trying to gain a foothold to climb the gap that exists in the polls just under 18 months out from the next federal election.
The tender for the Australia Network was for a $223 million contract to broadcast news content overseas, an important form of what is termed “soft diplomacy”- in short, displaying through various media the Australian culture, values and policies which we think will make our nation an attractive place to continue to visit and conduct business with.
Initially, the process was under the purview of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, with departmental recommendations saying the government could extend the ABC contract or put the contract out to tender, with the department arguing to keep the contract with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs subsequently decided that the contract should be put to tender, with the winner of the contract granted a long contract to provide the news service.
The audit found that before the tender was awarded, that both the Prime Minister’s office and that of the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy were aware of which party would win the tender.
Then the weirdness escalated- the government began seeking advice as to whether the final nod of approval could be transferred to the Communications Minister from the DFAT Secretary Dennis Richardson and it was.
The tender then underwent significant changes and the leaks began in earnest. These leaks revealed that twice the tender board recommended Sky News be awarded the contract. They were not.
The Government walked away from the tender process after the leaks were reported in the press and then proceeded to award the contract permanently to the ABC which had previously been the broadcaster of the Australia Network.
This flawed process could legitimately be seen as both a symptom of a government in trouble politically and electorally, floundering in the polls and trying to rush to “get things done” and also as a result of a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, whose department should have had the final say on the award of the sizeable contract.
As a result, the government have had to pay compensation for a failure in managing a process and even managing internal relationships between MPs who should be seeking to achieve the same ends regardless of conflicts in personality. Not only that, but the ALP Government have added another failed process to the list of mistakes only adding to the poor perceptions of Prime Minister Gillard and her MP’s.