The audit objective was to report on the administration of the Australia Network tender process and to identify lessons learned from the conduct of the process to inform future procurement activities.



1. The Australia Network is an Australian Government1 funded overseas television broadcasting service established to pursue foreign and trade policy objectives, including:

  • promoting Australia’s engagement across the Asia-Pacific and Indian subcontinent;
  • fostering an understanding of Australia as a dynamic, culturally diverse nation; and
  • raising awareness of Australia’s economic and trade capabilities.2

2. The Australia Network service is available via satellite and online video and is re-broadcast across Asia, the Pacific and the Indian subcontinent. The service is: free-to-air, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and broadcasts a mix of news, current affairs and business, English-language learning, education, documentaries, drama, sports and children's programs. The Australia Network is also used to transmit consular information to Australians living abroad, particularly in times of crisis.3

3. Since 2001, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has delivered the Australia Network service under two sequential contracts with the Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The most recent contract was due to expire on 8 August 2011. Prior to the expiry of the contract, the Government considered a range of options for the continued delivery of the service, with a decision taken on 22 November 2010 to award the contract through a competitive tender process.

Procurement framework

4. The letting of Australian Government contracts involves the expenditure of public money and is therefore subject to applicable financial management legislation. Specifically, the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) provides a framework for the proper management of public money and public property. This framework includes requirements governing the process by which decisions are made about whether public money should be spent, as well as accountability for such decisions.

5. The procurement policy framework is a subset of the financial management framework related to the procurement of property or services. For departments of state and agencies prescribed under the FMA Act, the core policy framework is established by the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (CPGs), which are issued under the authority of the Financial Management and Accountability Regulations 1997—the FMA Regulations.

6. The FMA Regulations require Ministers and agency officials to have regard to the CPGs when performing duties related to procurement. The FMA Regulations also require that a proposal to spend public money (including for the proposed procurement of property or services) must be considered and approved by an appropriately authorised party before contracts or other arrangements involving the expenditure of public money can be entered into.4

Key aspects of the Australia Network tender process

7. The Request for Tender (RFT) for the provision of the Australia Network was lodged on the Government’s central procurement website, AusTender, on 4 February 2011. The RFT sought tenders from appropriately qualified organisations to provide an international Australian television service and associated digital media services.5 The service was valued at up to $223.1 million over 10 years, commencing on 9 August 2011.

8. The purpose of the tender process was to select a service provider that demonstrated value for money and could broadly support Australia’s national interests and meet the Government’s objectives as specified in the RFT.6 The RFT attracted tenders from the ABC and the Australian News Channel Pty Ltd (ANC), a joint venture of Nine Digital, a division of Nine Entertainment Co., Seven Media Group and British Sky Broadcasting.7 Both organisations that tendered had also participated in the 2005–06 tender for the 2006–11 Australia Network contract.

9. DFAT initially planned for a six-month tender process. However, significant changes to the process were made by the Government at key points, which extended the timeline. These changes included the Government’s decision in June 2011 to: add a new evaluation criterion to the RFT and to seek further information from tenderers; and change the decision-making process for awarding the tender by replacing the Secretary of DFAT with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Communications Minister) as the approver. The Government sought agreement from the ABC to extend the contract for six months until 8 February 2012 to allow for the continuation of the Australia Network service while the amended tender process was completed.

10. In November 2011, the tender was terminated by the Government on public interest grounds8, following media reports that referred to confidential information relating to the tender process. Subsequently, in December 2011, the Government decided that the Australia Network would be delivered by the ABC on a permanent basis.

Media interest and Parliamentary requests for an audit

11. The Australia Network television broadcasting service has, over many years, been an important avenue through which Australia is promoted to other parts of the world. When considered against the background of the high level of interest in media ownership and broadcasting rights in Australia, it was to be expected that the tender for the Australia Network contract would generate more media interest than many other government procurement activities.

12. Initial reporting in the media focused on the degree to which the Government would be able to influence editorial and broadcasting content. Later reports speculated on, and reported on, aspects of the confidential tender evaluation process, delays in awarding the contract, changes to the tender requirements and the perceptions of government interference in the tender process. The probity of the tender process was also questioned following reports that senior ABC executives had approached two government Ministers at the time the Government was considering changes to the tender process.

13. The tender process also attracted considerable Parliamentary interest. In this context, in September 2011, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wrote to me requesting an investigation into the conduct of the Australia Network tender, particularly the transfer of the decision making responsibility from the Secretary of DFAT to the Communications Minister. My response on 28 September 2011 indicated that, given the advanced stage of the tender process, an audit would not be undertaken at that time, but that I would continue to monitor the tender process and outcome, and keep open the option of undertaking an audit at a later date.

14. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition again requested that I investigate matters relating to the Australia Network tender process on 8 November 2011, following the announcement of the termination of the tender process. The Communications Minister also wrote to me on 22 November 2011 requesting a review of the tender process in the interest of ensuring that future tender processes are as robust as possible.

15. Following consideration of these requests and the broader Parliamentary and public interest, I announced on 24 November 2011 that a performance audit of the administration of the Australia Network tender process would be undertaken under section 18 of the Auditor General Act 1997.

Audit objectives and scope

16. The audit objective was to report on the administration of the Australia Network tender process and to identify lessons learned from the conduct of the process to inform future procurement activities.

17. The audit examined the administration of the tender process, including: planning; conduct of the tender; and managing the change in tender conditions. The audit also considered the advice provided to government and the manner in which government decisions were implemented, including compliance with procurement requirements.

18. The Australia Network tender process has been subject to ongoing consideration by the Government. The Government has performed a key role in the decision-making process and, in doing so, has taken into account the advice provided by several departments and advisers. The departments concerned had also obtained advice from external probity and legal advisers. In several areas of this report, reference has been made to the advice received. The report also includes relevant references to briefings and submissions provided to Cabinet, Cabinet decisions, and the deliberations and recommendations of the Tender Evaluation Board, including the preferred tenderer, as well as complaints made about the tender process. I have taken the extraordinary step of including this information in this report as it is central to understanding the issues involved in the tender process and to provide context for the audit findings, conclusions and lessons learned. I have concluded that the inclusion of the information is not contrary to the public interest.9 The report on the audit does not extend to commenting on the deliberations of Cabinet, except where such matters have been specifically referred to by Ministers to inform the audit on key issues.

19. A separate investigation is being conducted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) into the possible unauthorised disclosure of confidential tender information.10 The audit did not directly examine these matters, but did include consideration of the confidentiality and document handling arrangements established by DFAT for the tender process.

Overall conclusion

20. The Australia Network is an Australian Government funded international television service designed to present an impartial, reliable and independent voice in Asia, the Pacific and the Indian sub-continent. Since commencement of an international broadcasting service in 1993, it has been operated by a commercial broadcaster, and also by the ABC, which held the contract to deliver services from 4 August 2006 until 8 August 2011. Under the terms of the contract, DFAT was required to provide 12 months’ notice to the ABC regarding any intention to extend the contract for a further five years, effectively establishing a deadline of 8 August 2010 for a decision on the future of the contract. This notification deadline was extended twice to provide time for the Government to make a decision on whether to extend the contract.

Retendering for the Australia Network service

21. To inform the decision regarding the future operation of the Australia Network, DFAT reviewed the ABC’s performance under the existing contract and conducted an industry submission process. The review and the submission process identified benefits to government from a longer contract period and strengthened performance indicators. At the same time, a proposal outlined in an earlier 2009 submission sponsored by the Communications Minister for the Australia Network to be permanently operated by the ABC was still being considered by government.

22. In response to a briefing from the former Foreign Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd MP, the Government decided on 22 November 2010 that a 10 year contract for the delivery of the Australia Network should be awarded through a competitive tender process, with the details to be settled between Ministers. Inherent in this decision to approach the market for the Australia Network, was an obligation that the tender process be undertaken in good faith and conducted in a fair, transparent and defensible manner.

23. While formal records will not necessarily reflect all matters canvassed, the Government’s decision to select a service provider for the Australia Network through an open tender process was silent on the decision-making process for the tender. The lack of a documented government position on this issue created some uncertainty in relation to the decision-making process for the tender, and subsequently led to modified arrangements for, and delays in, the tender process.

24. In December 2010, the former Foreign Minister appointed the Secretary of DFAT as the person to approve the outcome of the tender. The Minister later explained that his decision was taken, amongst other reasons, to ensure that the decision was, and was perceived to be, on the basis of merit and not influenced by any other consideration. The Minister also wrote to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, the Communications Minister and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation seeking nominations from their departments for representation on the Tender Evaluation Board (TEB) and agreement to the details for the tender process. The Minister’s correspondence referred to the TEB assessing the tenders and making recommendations to Ministers.

25. In response to the former Foreign Minister’s correspondence, the Prime Minister in her letter of 25 January 2011 noted that the ‘outcomes of the tender would be subject to Cabinet consideration, with Cabinet to agree the successful tender bid’. This was the first documented reference to a formal role for Cabinet in the decision-making process although a subsequent briefing prepared by the Cabinet Secretary11 indicated that Ministers had agreed at an October 2010 meeting that the decision was to be made by Cabinet. However, arrangements already put in place by the Foreign Minister for the Secretary of DFAT to approve the tender outcome did not envisage an explicit role for Cabinet.

26. During December 2010 and January 2011, DFAT established governance and administrative arrangements to manage the approach to market and the evaluation of tenders, having regard to specialist advice, including probity advice. These arrangements were, in the main, effective. Probity arrangements were also put in place for the tender process. Compliance with these arrangements by all parties would have provided the basis to better control the flow of confidential information during the course of the tender evaluation; information security was later to become an issue in the tender process.

27. Over the initial five months of the tender process, issues around the approval arrangements for the tender remained unresolved. Against the background of this uncertainty, on 4 May 2011 the TEB, through the tender Steering Committee, recommended to the Secretary of DFAT, in his role as approver, that he accept the ANC as the preferred tenderer. While the Secretary of DFAT had the authority to make a decision on the preferred tenderer once he was satisfied that all required steps had been undertaken, he considered that making a decision would be inappropriate given the differing views that existed within government, including at the ministerial and departmental levels, as to how the decision on the future provider was to be made. In the circumstances, this was a reasonable approach to take.

The amended tender process

28. It was not until 6 June 2011 that the Government requested the former Foreign Minister to bring forward a submission in relation to the tender with the aim of the Government agreeing the successful tender. The submission, which was prepared by DFAT, indicated that it was not possible for Cabinet collectively to be the approver for the tender process. This was also the view expressed in earlier advice provided by PM&C to the Prime Minister. Whilst for the purposes of approving a spending proposal under FMA Regulation 9, it is preferable to nominate an individual as an approver, the financial management legislation would not have precluded Cabinet from performing this role for the tender provided that the Ministers who took the decision were identified as the approvers.12

29. In the light of the former Foreign Minister’s submission and a subsequent submission on 20 June 2011, the Government made a number of changes to the Australia Network tender process: appointing the Communications Minister as the nominated approver (supported by DFAT); amending the RFT to include an additional evaluation criterion; and allowing the Communications Minister to make a decision that did not reflect the recommendations of the TEB. The changes to the RFT required additional information to be sought from the tenderers, which extended the length of the tender process and increased costs. The change that explicitly provided for the approver to make a decision that did not reflect the recommendations of the TEB is noteworthy, bearing in mind there were only two tenderers in the field.

30. While the Government has the clear authority to decide on such matters, the decisions nevertheless raised a range of issues in relation to:

  • perceptions, at least, of a conflict of interest arising from the Communications Minister being the nominated approver, given his portfolio responsibilities for the ABC and the earlier submission to government (in November 2009), sponsored by the Minister, that proposed the ABC provide the Australia Network service on a permanent basis;
  • whether the additional evaluation criterion would elicit much in the way of further insights into the tenderers’ capacity to deliver the service, given there was considerable weight of opinion to suggest that the original tender scope of requirements was sufficiently broad to capture global events13; and
  • the added time and cost of the revised tender arrangements for the parties tendering to provide the Australia Network service, and to the Government.

31. Key Ministers were provided with a range of advice from their departments ahead of the above-mentioned government decisions, which raised matters along the lines of the issues referred to in the preceding paragraph. In the process of developing advice for ministerial consideration, the TEB deliberations and recommendations, which favoured the ANC as the preferred tenderer, were provided to staff in PM&C and the former Foreign Minister’s office by DFAT. In addition, the TEB report was provided to a DBCDE officer by the department’s TEB member for the purposes of briefing the Communications Minister shortly before the Government’s consideration of changes to the tender process—the brief was made available to a number of departmental officers and the Minister’s office. While it was appropriate for the departments to prepare briefings for Ministers on the tender process, the briefings should have had greater regard to the confidentiality and sensitivity of the information being provided for what was still a ‘live’ tender process. Ultimately, information was not as tightly controlled as it should have been.

32. Following the Government’s decision to change the tender process, an Addendum to the RFT was issued on 8 July 2011. The TEB was reconvened and, after reviewing the revised tenders, submitted a Supplementary Tender Evaluation Report to the Communications Minister on 30 August 2011. The report indicated it was the unanimous professional judgement of all TEB members that ‘the ANC bid offers the best overall value-for-money; [and] accordingly the Board’s original recommendation of selecting the ANC as the Preferred Tenderer remains unaltered’.14

33. The Communications Minister sought additional information from the TEB on aspects of the evaluation on two occasions. The Minister also sought advice regarding the option of conducting parallel negotiations with both tenderers. The advice obtained by the Minister indicated that, while it was not without risk, it was open to the Minister to once again refer the matter back to the TEB and request DFAT to open parallel negotiations with both tenderers.

34. Against the background of this advice, the Communications Minister’s office advised the Secretary of DFAT that, following consultation with his ministerial colleagues and in order to make a final recommendation to government, the Minister had decided that both tenderers should go through a parallel negotiation process to: further test the financial reliability of each tenderer given the duration of the proposed contract; clarify commitments made in the tenders; and firm up aspects of both offers.

Termination of the tender process

35. However, before parallel negotiations commenced, the Minister, with the agreement of the Government, announced the termination of the Australia Network tender on 7 November 2011, as follows:

due to significant leaks of confidential information to the media, the Australia Network tender process has been compromised to such a degree that a fair and equitable outcome may no longer be able to be achieved.

36. While the stimulus for this decision was the publication of media articles on 17 and 24 October 2011, there had been a series of earlier references in the media in May, June and July 2011 to confidential aspects of the tender.

37. PM&C requested that the AFP commence an investigation into the possible unauthorised disclosure of tender information in the October 2011 media articles, but not the earlier possible disclosure of confidential tender information. These earlier articles were not considered to contain tender information reflecting the same level of accuracy.

38. The Communications Minister acted on the basis of legal and departmental advice15 in relation to key decisions on the tender process, including the decision to terminate the tender on public interest grounds (as provided for in the RFT). Nevertheless, it is clear that the Minister had not been convinced, up until the time of the termination of the tender, that the proposal by the ANC represented the best outcome for the Australian Government to deliver the Australia Network services.

The costs and consequences

39. The ANC has estimated the direct costs of participation in the tender at around $1.4 million plus additional preparation and indirect costs; the ABC has estimated around $475 000 in direct costs; and DFAT’s costs to March 2012 were around $770 000. The ANC has approached the Government to seek compensation for the direct costs of participation in the tender.

40. The end result is that, after having embarked on a tender process in November 2010 for a 10 year contract for the delivery of the Australia Network, the Government changed course—on public interest grounds—to make a policy decision in December 2011 that the ABC would provide the service on a permanent basis.

41. While the Government was entitled to take such a decision, the Australia Network tender process has presented the Australian Government in a poor light and cost the two tenderers—the ANC and the ABC—time and money. In this context, the ANC informed the ANAO that:

ANC expended significant costs participating in two tender processes which were ultimately cancelled for political reasons and through no fault of ANC.16

42. Despite the Government agreeing to a tender process, key Ministers did not hold a common view of the approval processes, including any role for government in being consulted on, agreeing to, or making the decision in relation to the preferred tenderer. The approval arrangements were changed four months after the initial RFT was published, and the addition of a new evaluation criterion for the tender necessitated retendering, but did not alter the views of the TEB as to the preferred tender—the ANC. This additional step added almost five months to the process and additional costs. Further, there were indications of possible leaks of information as early as May 2011, and following further ‘significant leaks of confidential information to the media’, the Government decided, on the basis of legal advice, that the tender process had been compromised and should be terminated.

43. The manner and circumstances in which this high profile tender process was conducted brought into question the Government’s ability to deliver such a sensitive process fairly and effectively. This is despite the fact that many other tender processes are employed in all areas of government, some involving decisions by Ministers, on more substantial and complex proposals, and are concluded satisfactorily.

44. One of the reasons for conducting this audit was to identify lessons learned from the conduct of the tender process to inform future procurement activities. There are three main issues to bear in mind. Firstly, it is important that, where it is intended that Ministers or Cabinet have a formal role in a tender process, that this be made clear; departments have a role in assisting government to be explicit about this. Secondly, information security is critically important to effective tender arrangements and there are accepted ways within government of managing this, namely, by not circulating confidential tender information to any departmental officers, Ministers or their staff, unless they are part of the tender decision-making process or have a demonstrable need for such specific information. Finally, all parties involved in the management of a tender process should have regard to the importance of adhering to conventional procurement arrangements and effectively managing the range of risks involved, given they can change significantly over time.

45. The Government may also wish to reflect on Ministers performing the role of an approver, in situations where the Minister’s portfolio bodies may be submitting tenders for services to be determined by government. In such circumstances, any perception of a conflict of interest could be mitigated by the Government agreeing to another Minister, or more than one Minister, approving the tender outcome.

46. The audit has not made any recommendations in the light of the termination of the tender process. That said, the above-mentioned lessons, together with some further suggestions in the concluding comments of Chapters 2 to 4 in this report, are designed to inform future procurement activities about important process elements necessary to achieve efficient and effective outcomes which have the confidence of tenderers and the wider community.

Provision of the proposed report

47. Under Section 19 of the Auditor-General Act 1997, the Auditor-General must provide audited agencies with a copy of the proposed report, and may provide a copy of, or an extract from, the proposed report to anyone (including a Minister) who, or any body that, in the Auditor-General’s opinion, has a special interest in the report or the content of the extract. Sub section 19(4) of the Act provides that, if the recipient of the proposed report, or an extract of the proposed report, gives written comments to the Auditor General within 28 days after receiving the proposed report or the extract, the Auditor-General must consider those comments before preparing the final report. In addition, sub section 19(5) of the Act requires the Auditor General to include in the final audit report all such comments received.

48. Accordingly, copies of the proposed report or extracts were provided to the following agencies, organisations and individuals.

Table S.1: Recipients of the proposed report or extracts of the proposed report

Source: ANAO.

Summary of responses to the proposed report

49. The Australian News Channel Pty Ltd, one of the tenderers, and the three departments subject to the audit provided the following summary responses.

Australian News Channel Pty Ltd

The Australia Network tenders represent a failure of public administration and highlight the potential risk to a commercial organisation of engaging in business with the Commonwealth, particularly when a government owned entity is the competitor. No Australian business, regardless of industry or size, should be exposed as ANC was by participating, not once but twice, in tender processes that were ultimately cancelled through no fault of their own. This cannot be in the national interest.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade believes it managed the Tender process for the Australia Network consistent with the requirements of Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines. The Department notes that the Guidelines neither suggest nor require that APS officers sign individual confidentiality undertakings. If the ANAO believes that this should be so, then it should sort it out with the Department of Finance and Deregulation. The Department believes it is untenable for the ANAO to have a standard different to that required in official Procurement Guidelines.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade notes that highly sensitive and classified material is regularly handled through the Cabinet communications system and can see no reason why the Australia Network matter should have been treated any differently.

ANAO comment on the response from DFAT concerning confidentiality undertakings

50. As is outlined in paragraph 2.3 in the report, the CPGs establish the procurement policy framework for Australian Government agencies and assist senior management in meeting the financial management and accountability requirements of the FMA Act. Outlined in the CPGs are mandatory requirements and matters of sound practice. The CPGs are not exhaustive and it is the responsibility of agencies to implement appropriate arrangements to manage procurement processes in a way that is proportional to the risk and sensitivity of the various procurements in which they are involved.

51. The Australia Network tender process was a sensitive procurement given the profile that media issues of this kind attract in Australia. In administering the tender process, DFAT implemented arrangements that were over and above the mandatory requirements of the CPGs including: establishing a steering committee to oversee the tender process; convening a multi-department evaluation board with an independent chair to evaluate submissions; and engaging external probity, legal and technical advisers to assist with the ongoing conduct of the tender.

52. Where there is a sensitive tender process, the ANAO considers that asking evaluation board members to formally acknowledge the confidentiality and information security requirements outlined in the probity plan, or, alternatively, complete a confidentiality undertaking reinforces their personal responsibility for safeguarding confidential tender information and assists in managing the flow of such information. AGS in responding to the proposed audit report advised the ANAO that ‘there may be some cases where obtaining a written acknowledgement is appropriate and this is a practice which AGS often adopts’.17

53. The issue raised by DFAT in relation to the CPGs is only one element relating to information security that this report refers to. The more significant matter is the wide range of ministerial and departmental officers that had access to the TEB’s deliberations and recommendations while the tender was still live. There is also the separate issue of the AFP investigation into the possible unauthorised disclosure of confidential tender information to the media.

Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

The Secretary of DBCDE, in reviewing the particular circumstances of the 14 June Cabinet consideration of the tender and amended arrangements, has concluded that the circulation of briefing within the Department and Minister’s Office could not have been limited to fewer officers. The Secretary supports greater clarity in arrangements to explicitly authorise the briefing of Ministers by TEB members when the tender is the subject of Cabinet deliberation.

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet considers that the report inaccurately describes the tender as being conducted in a climate of uncertainty as to the decision-making process. The Prime Minister had advised on 25 January 2011, before the tender was released, that the tender be brought back to Cabinet for decision. Any delays to the tender in order to implement that decision did not arise from uncertainty or lack of clarity.

The Department agrees that information security is important for tender processes. Departmental officers are subject to broader duties and confidentiality obligations outside the tender process. Any confidentiality arrangements put in place for tender processes need to be considered in that light.

ANAO comment on the response from PM&C concerning the decision-making process for the tender.

54. The evidence obtained by the ANAO indicates that there were differing views within government, including at the ministerial and departmental levels, about the decision-making and approval processes for the Australia Network tender. There was no formal documented decision of government in relation to the approval process in the early stages of the tender. Rather, there were clear indicators of different views being held.

55. In December 2010, the former Foreign Minister appointed the Secretary of DFAT as the person to approve the outcome of the tender. In responding to correspondence from the former Foreign Minister regarding the tender process, the Prime Minister in correspondence of 25 January 2011 noted that the ‘outcomes of the tender would be subject to Cabinet consideration, with Cabinet to agree the successful tender bid’. A subsequent briefing by the Cabinet Secretary18 indicated that Ministers had agreed at an October 2010 meeting that the decision was to be made by Cabinet. However, arrangements already put in place by the Foreign Minister did not envisage an explicit role for Cabinet.

56. The decision-making arrangements for the tender remained unresolved until such time as Cabinet appointed the Communications Minister as the approver in June 2011.


[1]   For the remainder of this report, the Australian Government will be referred to as ‘the Government’, unless otherwise indicated.

[2]   DFAT, Annual Report 2010–11, p. 130.

[3]   Australian Government Budget 2011–12, Budget Paper No. 2 Budget Measures, p. 202.

[4]   The decision about whether to spend public money may be made by a Minister, by Ministers collectively (such as in Cabinet), an agency Chief Executive, officials acting under the authority of a Minister or their Chief Executive, or other persons authorised by legislation to make such decisions. The capacity for a Minister or Ministers collectively to undertake a decision-making role in respect to decisions about whether to spend public money is provided for in the financial management legislation provided that they are identified as the approvers.

[5]   DFAT, Request for Tender for the provision of an international Australian Television service and associated digital media services, DFAT11-CPD-02, 4 February 2011.

[6]   ibid., p. 27.

[7]   The ANC owns and operates Sky News Australia, Sky News Business, Australian Public Affairs Channel, Sky News Local and Multiview, and provides news content on both free-to-air and subscription services in New Zealand.

[8]   The RFT provided at clause 4.7.1 that the contract may be suspended or terminated if the Commonwealth, represented by DFAT, considered that it was in the public interest to do so.

[9]   Section 37 of the Auditor-General Act 1997 outlines the circumstances in which particular information is not to be included in public reports, including if the Auditor-General is of the opinion that disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest.

[10]   The AFP informed the Senate Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 14 February 2012, that some interim findings had been provided to the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (the matter was referred to the AFP by the Secretary–see paragraph 37 of the report). The department subsequently informed the ANAO that it has provided additional information to the AFP and that the department had not received further findings.

[11]   This brief to the Prime Minister was prepared on 14 June 2011 (see paragraphs 3.37 and 3.35 in the report).

[12]   This issue was discussed in Report No.24 2008–09, The Administration of Contracting Arrangements in Relation to Government Advertising to November 2007. During the audit the ANAO sought advice from the Chief General Counsel of the Australian Government Solicitor. The advice stated that:

  • ‘the approver should be the person, or group of persons, who determine ultimately all the substantial matters that need to be determined to assess whether a proposal will make effective and efficient use of public money’;
  • ‘where a committee containing at least some Ministers is involved in the decision making process, close consideration should be given to making members of that committee the approvers’; and
  • ‘more specifically, where the Committee’s role involves finally selecting a successful tenderer following an assessment of the relative merits of competing bids, the members of the Committee should be regarded as the approvers for the purposes of FMA Regulation 9’.

[13]   The initial Australia Network RFT required tenderers to provide an international television service and other digital media services that broadly supported Australia’s national interests. The original conditions were considered by the Government to relate to Australia’s enduring interests in the Asia-Pacific region. The additional evaluation criterion focused on Australia’s national interests in light of changed international circumstances, particularly emerging markets in South Asia and the Asia-Pacific, political transformation in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent consular crises. At the time the RFT was released in February 2011, political unrest had been experienced in Tunisia and Egypt, but conflict had yet to arise in other parts of the Middle East, including Libya and Syria. While the additional criterion related to international developments in the Middle East and North Africa, the Australia Network does not currently broadcast to the Middle East or North Africa and the RFT did not specify an expansion to these regions as a requirement of the new contract.

[14]   DFAT, Supplementary Tender Evaluation Board Report, RFT DFAT11-CPD-02 Australia Network Addendum 1, 30 August 2011, p. 3.

[15]   The advice relied on by the Minister included: briefs from both PM&C and DBCDE in June 2011 that indicated that there were no substantive conflict of interest or probity issues with the Minister becoming the approver. The brief provided by PM&C (and relied on by DBCDE) incorrectly stated on the cover page that the advice had been cleared by the AGS. While the AGS had reviewed earlier versions of the paper, it did not review the specific paragraphs drafted by PM&C in relation to a possible conflict of interest for the Communications Minister, prior to the paper’s finalisation and circulation to Ministers. Further legal and probity advice relating to parallel contract negotiations with the tenderers and termination of the tender was provided to the Minister in September and October 2011, respectively.

[16]   ANC, advice provided to the ANAO, 14 March 2012.

[17]   AGS, advice provided to the ANAO, 22 March 2012.

[18]   This brief to the Prime Minister was prepared on 14 June 2011 (paragraphs 3.37 and 3.55 in the report)