Labor figures awarded contracts without open tenders

Former Labor minister Greg Combet was awarded a lucrative contract advising the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet without an open tender process, taking the value of contracts won by Labor figures since the Albanese government’s election to nearly $160,000.

Combet, the chair of Industry Super Australia and former leader of the ACTU, was in December awarded a $46,200 contract to work with the department until June, prompting questions from the opposition about the use of closed procurement processes in which government departments do not test the market for value.

Former Labor minister Greg Combet was in December awarded a $46,200 contract to work with PM&C until June.Credit:Louie Douvis

The Rudd/Gillard-era minister told this masthead he was bound by confidentiality and could not disclose the work he was doing for the government, which has committed to de-politicising the public service after the Morrison government was accused of fostering a “jobs for mates” culture.

“You’ll need to speak to PM&C,” Combet said when asked why the contract was awarded through what is known as a limited tender, which means no other suppliers were approached.

Finance Department guidelines stipulate limited tenders can only be granted under a strict set of scenarios. They include emergencies, occasions on which a supplier has copyright over a product the government wants to access, or when no other suppliers could provide value-for-money bids.

Ben Hubbard, a former chief-of-staff to Julia Gillard, has also been awarded contracts under the Albanese government through limited tenders, including a $66,000 piece of work reviewing the Home Affairs department and a $46,000 contract with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Hubbard, a respected Labor insider who runs Creswell Advisory, also said he was unable to disclose the nature of his work when contacted.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet official Peter Rush confirmed at Senate estimates on Monday that Hubbard was the only supplier approached relating to the contract he was awarded by the department.

Part of Hubbard’s work, first reported by The Australian, involved designing a new process to hire hundreds of staff members for new Labor ministers. Sources not authorised to speak publicly but familiar with the Rudd-Gillard transition told this masthead the recruitment process was rocky in that era and Hubbard was tasked with ensuring the staffing cohort included a mix of young and experienced staffers from political and private sector backgrounds.

Liberal senator Jane Hume said Labor needed to explain why the government had not conducted open procurement processes.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Shadow minister for finance and the public service Jane Hume questioned the use of limited tenders and said Labor needed to explain why the government had not conducted open procurement processes to find suitable suppliers and was instead approaching Labor figures directly.

She argued the arrangements were contrary to the government’s pledge to cut the amount it spent on fees to consultants.

“We will be holding the Albanese government to account on these commitments and seeking explanations through the parliament,” she said in a written statement.

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