The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet paid former public servant Dennis Richardson — who it this week appointed to conduct a “review” of “missing” cabinet documents — $50,000-a-month for a probe just months ago.
Government procurement register AusTender shows that since departing as Secretary of the Department of Defence in 2017, Richardson has been given more than $1 million in “limited tender” Federal Government contracts.
They include an $800,000 contract from the Attorney-General’s Department in May 2018, months after he left the public service; and a contract for $81,700 from the Department of Defence, that was issued in May last year and which remains ongoing.
AusTender shows a third contract, from August 2 to October 31 last year, was granted to Richardson by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) at a cost of $148,000 — almost exactly $50,000-a-month.
On Monday scandal erupted after the PM&C announced it had, in 2020, failed to provide some Federal Government cabinet papers from 2003 to the National Archives — and that “Mr Dennis Richardson” had been appointed to conduct an “independent review”.
On January 1 each year, after any redactions, cabinet papers from 20 years earlier are released by National Archives, which is usually given the documents by PM&C some years in advance.
Former independent Federal Senator Rex Patrick, a transparency and governance campaigner, raised concerns over Richardson’s appointment.
“The Secretary of (PM&C) has, without tender, appointed former Secretary Dennis Richardson to undertake another review…on top of $1,027,700 in past sole source contracts to him,” Patrick posted to social media.
“In 2024 the Secretaries Club gravy train keeps rolling”.
In his first address to media this year, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese yesterday said 78 cabinet documents had not been handed over in 2020.
He indicated they related to the decision by the cabinet of the then Howard Coalition Government to enter the Iraq War, on May 18, 2003.
“Australians lost their lives during that conflict, and we know that some of the stated reasons for going to war was not correct,” Albanese said.
In 2020 PM&C was under then Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Asked whether there was a “cover-up”, Albanese responded: “That’s why we have asked Dennis Richardson to do the review. I’m not aware of the circumstances”.
PM&C’s January 1 statement (which contains no stated author) appeared to downplay the matter, stating it related to a “small number” of documents, was due to “apparent administrative oversights” and “likely…a result of Covid-19 disruptions at the time”.
PM&C is overseen by Albanese and is the nation’s most powerful agency.
Dennis Richardson. Source: ABC News/ Nicholas Haggarty
In 2020 the Secretary of PM&C was Phil Gaetjens. After the ALP won power in 2022 Albanese replaced Gaetjens with Glyn Davis.
Many of the same people who worked for PM&C in 2020 remain in senior roles in the agency.
Before being appointed Defence Secretary, Richardson was boss of intelligence agency ASIO and head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Since Monday morning PM&C has failed to provide answers to questions from The Klaxon — including regarding on which date it had appointed Richardson to conduct the “independent review” and what he is to be paid.
“PM&C has since Monday failed to provide answers to questions from The Klaxon”
The Klaxon also asked when PM&C first became aware that not all cabinet documents had been handed over in 2020.
In its January 1 statement PM&C said it “located” the documents on “19 December 2023” — but not when it first became aware of the matter.
While Albanese told reporters yesterday: “The current head [of PM&C Glyn Davis] was only notified of the failure to forward the 78 documents just around just before Christmas”.
The Prime Minister did not state when PM&C first became aware of the matter.
Refusing to answer: Questions The Klaxon put to PM&C Monday morning.
The use of private citizens, or private companies, to conduct “reviews” — rather than respected agencies such as the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which must adhere to strict legislative requirements — has long drawn criticism.
That is especially the case when, as is the case with the latest PM&C “review”, the government fails to state what specific “terms of reference”, or instructions, it has set for the investigator.
Governance experts have warned substantial sums of money paid to private entities for such “investigations” raises concerns of potential conflicts of interest.
PM&C has refused to say what the $50,000-a-month contract that it awarded Richardson last year was for.
PM&C’s AusTender filing states it was a “confidential” consultancy contract, issued by PM&C to Richardson via “limited tender”.
The $148,000 contract was for “strategic advice and review” between August 2 and October 31, and had been awarded because of a “need for independent research or assessment”.
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