Additional comments

Additional comments

1.1As a matter of principle, Coalition committee members support the referral to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) of any serious allegations of corruption that are drawn to the Committee’s attention.

1.2However, it is not the role of the Committee to request that the NACC conduct an investigation into any matter. The NACC is an independent agency and consideration of an investigation is the responsibility of the NACC Commissioner.

1.3Coalition Members believe the appropriate response to all individuals or organisations who make corruption allegations to the Joint Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) is for the Committee to write to the submitter advising them on how they can directly refer their allegations to the NACC at

1.4This approach ensures that referrals to the NACC are made by the person or persons who are best able to provide the NACC with the information and evidence relevant to the allegations and avoids the risk that the NACC Commissioner identified in his Opening Address on 3 July 2023 of the Commission being “weaponized” through inappropriate or unfounded referrals.

1.5We also believe that this consistent and principles based approach would avoid the circumstances described by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese; that it would be “entirely inappropriate for politicians to direct the national integrity commission to investigate a matter” and “it in fact could be regarded as an entirely inappropriate action by the Prime Minister, or any other politician for that matter, to try to direct the anti-commission into what to do.”

1.6We believe that the Committee must adopt a consistent approach to all such submissions, to avoid the perception of bias or political interference.

1.7Coalition Members note that reports of the JCPAA have historically carried significant standing, given the importance of the nature of the inquiries and the bipartisanship of the reports.

1.8Coalition Members therefore consider that the above proposed handling approach is appropriate.

1.9Coalition Members do not agree with the Chair’s report recommendation that seeks to direct the NACC to consider undertaking an inquiry, this is a decision of the NACC Commissioner.

1.10Coalition Members consider the language used in the Chair’s recommendation seeks to instruct or influence the NACC which is further evidence of the politicization of the allegations.

1.11Consequently, Coalition Members do not support Recommendation 1 in the Chair’s report and do not believe that there was justification for this separate interim report particularly given that the Inquiry into procurement at Services Australia and the NDIA is still underway.

1.12We believe that the final report should take into consideration the independent auditors report, which will we understand will answer the question if there was any potential Australia Public Service code of conduct breaches or potential criminal acts.

1.13From media reports and Parliamentary Hansard, it is clear that this issue has been highly politicized, as Minister Bill Shorten has repeatedly publicly accused the Former Minister for Government Services and the NDIS of engaging in misconduct.

1.14On 24 November 2022, media reports emerged claiming that Synergy 360 had engaged in influencing government officials on behalf of corporations and receiving compensation if contracts were effectively obtained. These reports in the media featured purportedly leaked emails from the period spanning 2017 to 2018.

1.15Consequently, the Watt Review was established to examine 95 procurements undertaken by Services Australia and the NDIA to determine:

  • Whether the processes undertaken in these procurements were consistent with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and whole of APS best practice.
  • If the processes for and circumstances surrounding these procurements were consistent with comparable procurements undertaken by Services Australia and the NDIA within the same period.
  • Any real or perceived conflicts of interests or possible misconduct in these procurements by services Australia and NDIA employees and related contractors.
    1. The Watt Review selected the 95 procurements because they involved entities or entities closely associated with those named in the news reports.
    2. The review was finalized in March 2023. While it did uncover certain administrative shortcomings it found “There were no examples of clear misconduct related to the procurements.” (Watt Review p.5)
    3. Somewhat farcically, the Watt Review taskforce did not have access to the leaked emails that appear to have been provided by Mr. Daly to Minister Bill Shorten. Consequently, much of the evidence in the Watt Report itself relied on information derived from media reports, a fact confirmed both by Mr. Watt and the Services Australia CEO in a hearing on 8 September 2023.
    4. The Watt Review findings revealed that among the 95 procurements selected for review in light of the allegations, 71 per cent exhibited compliance with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and showcased good practices. In contrast the remaining 29 per cent shared similarities with shortcomings observed in comparable procurements carried out by the NDIA and Services Australia during the same reference period:

Further, using as a rough point of comparison a decade or so of published ANAO audits on procurements, there is no reason to suggest that NDIA and SA Procurement processes, procurement capability and contract management are markedly worse than those across the Australian Government as a whole (Watt Review P.5).

1.20Moreover, during a public hearing on 8 September 2023, the CEO of Services Australia affirmed that there was no evidence of compromise in any of the contracts linked to Synergy 360 or Infosys. Additionally, there was no indication of external influence on tenders related to the ECE contract.

1.21During the public hearing on 8 September 2023, the CEO of Services Australia confirmed that, as part of their own post Watt review due diligence, Services Australia has engaged a forensic auditor to conduct a comprehensive investigation into suboptimal documentation in certain procurements and any additional information held by the agencies. The final report is expected to be completed in March 2024.

1.22Coalition members note that Labor's direction to the NACC to consider an inquiry relies on selective in-camera evidence, which in the Coalition Members opinion should not have been publicly released. This is particularly so as it can not be viewed within the context of the broader in-camera inquiry testimony.

1.23Considering the absence of concrete evidence of misconduct within the scope of the 95 procurements the Watt Inquiry reviewed, it is disconcerting that the Labor members of this committee have chosen to release this interim report and request the NACC undertake an investigation based on unsubstantiated allegations. This departure from established committee precedent, especially in a matter with political overtones, raises serious concerns.

Senator the Hon Linda ReynoldsCSC

Deputy Chair

Senator the Hon Matthew CanavanMr Ian Goodenough MP

Mr Henry Pike MPMr Aaron Violi MP