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Labor vows to block less-transparent government tendering and credit card proposals

'Extraordinary proposals': Tony Burke has rejected a request to support changes to government tender processes.

'Extraordinary proposals': Tony Burke has rejected a request to support changes to government tender processes. Photo: Andrew Meares

A plan by the federal government to exempt hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts from public scrutiny and increase credit card limits for government purchases from $10,000 to $20,000 will be blocked by Labor.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann wrote to his opposite number in the ALP, Tony Burke, seeking the opposition's support for the rule changes, which would mean any government contract worth less than $20,000 would not have to be reported on the AusTender website. The present limit is $10,000.

In his letter, Senator Cormann said the changes would reduce red tape for business, help improve their cash flow and ensure greater efficiency in the public sector.

"More than 99 per cent of government procurement will still be reported publicly," the minister said. "The proposed payment card and AusTender reforms will provide real red-tape reductions and cash-flow benefits to businesses supplying government, while also increasing public sector efficiency with only a very minor reduction in transparency," he said.

In 2012-13, about $280 million was spent on contracts worth between $10,000 and $20,000, of total government expenditure of $39 billion. On average, about 20,000 government transactions worth between $10,000 and $20,000 occur every year.

Mr Burke rejected the measures outright and said they were "extraordinary proposals, which doubles the threshold limit on credit cards in every government department".

"Labor cannot support such a change. The opposition believes that transparency and accountability for government expenditure is of paramount importance," he wrote in reply to Mr Cormann.

"The opposition notes that if this change had been implemented for the 2012-13 financial year, some $280 million of contracts would not have been reported on AusTender."

Some of the transactions that would not be publicly declared on AusTender's website under the proposed rise from $10,000 to $20,000 include:

- Two Christmas receptions hosted by the Prime Minister in December 2013, worth $14,624 and $18,940.

- Three Department of Human Services' contracts for taxi services in financial year 2014-15 worth $11,000, $19,000 and $18,200.

- A $10,872 contract for the Fair Work Ombudsman for focus group research.

- A $20,000 Defence contract for social media monitoring.

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26 comments

  • Reduce red tape or allow more handouts for their mates. The latter surely fits the LNP mantra. Seems like on one hand they bang on about a "budget emergency" while on the other they cannot keep their snouts out of the trough.

    Commenter
    Get Real
    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 7:17AM
    • yep....the fact that they want to hide who they give the money to that they are spending should tell us all something...........so they want to keep all the general publics metadata for years so they can peer at it, but think that they should be allowed to hide their spending and their 'secret' free trade deals from the public that elected them?

      Commenter
      shonky
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 8:28AM
    • This indeed is a con so the LNP can spend tax payer funds on their donors without being held accountable. It is another outrages proposal to enable corrupt practices to thrive eventually. Thank you Tony Burke for stopping it now.

      Commenter
      Akari
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 9:13AM
  • Mmmmmm, $20,000 that's about the price for a '54 grange.

    Commenter
    stoney
    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 7:35AM
    • Mmmm ... So, now they want a 'Minchin Protocol' for tendering.

      The idea that your should be accountable and responsible for the use of public funds has pretty much gone down the tubes with this lot hasn't it?

      I mean, why don't they just get out there and remove all controls, then they can funnel public monies to their 'friends' and major corporates like crazy - and nobody would have to do any work for the funds they received, and our politicians could corrupt the process and line their own pockets even more than they have done up-to-date ... and the great thing is, that nobody would know about it.

      Ohhhh ... this is a politicians lurk par excellence! Bring it on, Baby!

      Even our conventional criminal element hasn't been able to swing a scheme like this.

      I'm speechless with admiration!

      Commenter
      Frank O'Connor
      Location
      Rye
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 11:21AM
    • You don't expect me and smokin' to drink cheaper plonk with our $300 cigars do you.

      Commenter
      Senator Conman
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 12:04PM
  • What a joke - the threshold should be 50K minimum - the govt administrative cost alone (let alone the cost to all of the tenderers) at a 10K limit would far outweigh the potential risk of someone taking advantage.

    We complain, complain, complain about taxes and the cost of living in this country - we need to better understand the balance between cost and risk - our ever growing zero risk approach to everything we do these days just adds cost upon cost

    A more balanced approach to risk is required

    Commenter
    Mike
    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 8:00AM
    • @ Mike - as someone who, in her last position, was responsible for arranging for this information to be collated and then to go on the AusTender website, I can categorically state that it is NOT time consuming, or difficult. It took very little time and any department with a finance and/or admin team would have a system that marries both the usual reconciliations with the reporting. As a tax payer, I am reassured by the transparency - it's a fairly obvious example of the "checks and balances" voters expect to see from their democratically elected government. They want to spend my very hard earned money....that's fine...just make sure you show me what you're spending it on. I now work in the private sector and the only thing that is different is that the monthly report I run and send to the CFO involves much smaller sums. Your comment smells more of ideology than anything. If you're happy to throw around $50k and not need any sort of transparency about what it was actually spent on, please, throw it my way...I'm sure I can find something to do with it...and then simply nod and say, "Yes, I spent it exactly how you told me to....receipt? Oh, you don't need that, do you? New shoes??? Why, yes, they are..."

      Commenter
      LuluX
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 8:53AM
    • Like spending $15,000 on 'social media monitoring' - how do you protect the taxpayer from unscrupulous politicians form having this outsourced to a party supporter in exchange for donations. Same goes with Labor potentially outsourcing 'workplace safety reviews' to union officials.

      Commenter
      Scotty
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 8:59AM
    • Lulux

      you certainly have extended the argument to the baby going out with the bathwater.

      Having managed contracts in the billions, I am well aware of the admin burden (and actual cost) that accrues when the zero risk mindset applies.

      In no way am I suggesting that reconciliation of expenditure is not required as you suggest. What is required is a reality check of the value to any organisation (be that government or private enterprise) of a nickel and dime approach up front to the award of what are in the scheme of things, minor cost contracts.

      Reconciliation of expenditure will weed out those who are taking the P and will lead to a more nimble operation that benefits all - including you as a taxpayer.

      Commenter
      Mike
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 9:31AM

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