Senator claims public servants ‘misled’ committee over contract’s purpose

By Jackson Graham

February 17, 2022

Katy Gallagher
Shadow minister for finance Katy Gallagher. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

A senator is considering referring senior public servants involved with a Department of Social Services contract that raised questions due to a lack of detail to a privileges committee for giving “misleading answers”. 

Labor senator Katy Gallagher has raised concerns for the past 15 months over a $1.7 million extension to a Boston Consulting Group contract, and claims she received information from public servants different to information released in a report under freedom of information. 

“I’m very concerned about the accuracy of the answers that the committee has received verbally and in writing,” Gallagher said on Thursday. 

She named one former deputy secretary who now works in a different department as providing misleading information about the purpose of the contract. 

“What we know now through FOI, is that the additional work was not to do with the Disability Employment Services Program; it was to do with working-age payments across the board. So that is a direct mislead if that is the case,” Gallagher said. 

Social Services Department secretary Ray Griggs, who came into the role after the contract was approved, told estimates the contract was “less than better practice” in respect to commonwealth procurement rules. 

He said he was investigating the tender while highlighting it was awarded in 2020 in a “particularly busy time”. 

“I’m not trying to excuse anything,” he said. “I do want to make sure that I fully consider all the aspects of this.” 

Social services minister Anne Ruston said she was “absolutely sure” a public servant would not have intentionally misled the committee. 

“I also believe that the secretary, as is appropriate, is doing the appropriate thing and undertaking a very detailed and comprehensive investigation into what has preceded here,” Ruston said.

Griggs said in a letter to Gallagher on Tuesday that he had tightened delegation approvals in regards to procurement of consultants, including requiring all contracts to be approved at a deputy secretary level and all tenders over $1m to be approved by him. 

He also said he believed there were shortcomings in the documentation and record keeping surrounding the contract, and has since initiated a refresher course on procurement for SES staff. 

Griggs said an internal audit was due to commence later this month of the department’s procurement processes. 


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