The Treasurer released a sham version of the report into serious corruption at the top of ASIC. Then its high-profile author disappeared. Now documents reveal Treasury more than doubled what it paid for the report – the day before it was handed over. As calls mount for a proper investigation into allegations of sexual assault regarding Attorney-General Christian Porter, the Federal Government’s sweetheart “investigations” are in the spotlight. Anthony Klan investigates…
Appreciate our quality journalism? Please donate here
Treasury gave the private company that conducted the “review” into the corporate watchdog an extra $60,000 – more than its entire initial fee – just hours before the company submitted its final report to the government in December, explosive tender documents reveal.
Canberra-based CPM Reviews was contracted in October to conduct a review into alleged corruption at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, with the report to be completed by the “end of the year”.
Federal Government register AusTender shows CPM was contracted on October 15 last year – the week before the scandal was forced into the public arena – to conduct the review between October 15 and December 31, at a total cost of $50,000.
However, it can now be revealed that the Department of the Treasury “amended” that contract on December 16 – the day before CPM Reviews’ “final report” was officially submitted to Treasury – with the private company paid an unexplained, additional $60,000.
The December 16 “amendment” to the CPM contract. Source: AusTender
Remarkably – despite it being an official document and it clearly stating the contract had been amended, with an “amendment date” of “16 December”, the Federal Government has claimed that was not correct, but it has repeatedly refused to provide any evidence to back up that claim.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has not released CPM’s report on ASIC, but on January 29, facing mounting public pressure, he released a doctored, “abridged” version, that was instead “prepared by Treasury”.
That document was dated January 28.
As previously revealed, the report’s author, CPM Executive Reviewer Dr Vivienne Thom, resigned from her longstanding senior role at the company almost immediately.
Before joining CPM, until 2015, Thom had been Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, where she oversaw the six agencies of the nation’s Australian Intelligence Community.
How The Klaxon broke the story on February 23. Source: The Klaxon
Frydenberg used Thom as a drawcard when he announced on October 23 what he termed an “independent review” into revelations that ASIC chair James Shipton had received $118,557 in personal “tax advice” at the public’s expense.
(In fact in his announcement Frydenberg makes no mention of CPM, only stating that the ASIC review would be “undertaken by Dr Vivienne Thom”.)
Frydenberg repeatedly declined to comment when asked by The Klaxon why Treasury had paid CPM an additional $60,000 the day before the company officially filed its “final report” with the government.
CPM has been described as the Coalition’s “go to investigator” and it conducts “reviews” whose parameters are set by the government.
Many of those reviews, despite being taxpayer-funded, regularly never see the light of day.
Because the “reviews” are run by a private operator, the customer (government) has a high degree of control over specifically what is investigated and what isn’t, and the customer is able to see draft reports before they are officially completed and handed over.
The original $50,000 contract. Source: AusTender
The doctored version of the Thom report states the report was addressed to the Secretary to the Treasury, Dr Steven Kennedy. (The Secretary to the Treasury is the head of the Department of the Treasury and so reports directly to Frydenberg, the Treasurer).
“The final confidential report was provided to Treasury on 17 December 2020,” it states.
Over the past two weeks Kennedy has repeatedly refused to respond to detailed questions from The Klaxon regarding the mysterious additional $60,000 his department paid to CPM.
Government departments are required by law to file with AusTender any contracts they enter into over $10,000.
Secretary to the Treasury Dr Steven Kennedy, outright refusing to comment despite serious concerns involving the alleged spending of taxpayer funds on covering up public sector corruption. Source: Treasury
The contract between Treasury and CPM regarding the ASIC “independent review” states the “contract period” began on October 15 last year.
The “contract value” was $50,000.
The filing, which was published on November 13 last year, is innocuously titled “Management Advisory Services”.
On October 23, when announcing the ASIC review, Frydenberg said the report would be completed by the “end of the year”.
However there is a second filing that “amends” the CPM contract, taking it from $50,000 to $110,000.
In that amendment the “contract period” remains the same – starting on October 15 – and it carries the same description, “Management Advisory Services”.
The amendment is dated December 16 (the document states “Amendment Start Date: 16 December 2020”).
Although Kennedy repeatedly refused to respond, we received a brief written response to our emailed questions from a media spokeswoman for Treasury, who identified only as “Lizzie”.
The email said:
“The Treasury engaged CPM Reviews to conduct a review of ASIC matters and report to the Secretary on 15 October 2020,” the statement said.
“The initial contract value was $50,000 (GST inclusive). A Deed of Variation was subsequently entered into increasing the value of contract to $110,000 (GST inclusive) on 25 November 2020.
“Treasury has not engaged CPM Reviews under any other contractual arrangements relating to the ASIC review and report.”
We responded seeking more information.
The tender document clearly shows the “amendment”was published on December 18 and it clearly states the “amendment start date” (i.e. when the amendment was entered into) was December 16.
We asked whether Treasury was suggesting that official information was wrong.
Lizzie responded: “We don’t have anything further to add to the statement”.
We emailed back again, asking Treasury to provide us with any evidence that the CPM Reviews contacted was amended on November 25, as opposed to December 16 (as per the official AusTender filing).
We asked whether the CPM contract was ongoing (despite the “final report” having been submitted, and whether the original (and amended) contract stating the period October 15 2020 to December 31 2021 was incorrect (ie whether it should read December 31 2020).
We also asked that we receive a response directly from Kennedy, “given the importance of the situation”.
We received no response.
The re-worked original contract, now reflecting the December 16 “amendment”. Source: AusTender
Treasury’s refusal to respond in any meaningful sense has only served to raise more highly serious questions around the entire ASIC corruption saga, which we have covered in an investigative series spanning several months.
If it were the case that Treasury “amended” the CPM Reviews contract on November 25, and not on December 16 as reported in AusTender, then this could be easily proven by Treasury given there would be associated paperwork, including a second invoice.
Even if that is the case (despite Treasury inexplicably refusing to provide any evidence backing its suggestion the AusTender database contains false information) the question remains – why would Treasury more than double its fee to CPM Reviews?
Frydenberg’s 41-page “abridged version” of Dr Vivienne Thom’s review. Source: Department of Treasury
In the amended contract the contract period and all other details remain the same.
(The original contract has been updated to include the new “contract value” of $110,000, with the “original” contract stated as $50,000.)
Also inexplicable is the fact the contract (and the amendment) that Treasury entered into with CPM Reviews was on a “limited tender” basis.
That means the contract was handed, behind-the-scenes, to CPM Reviews with no other parties approached or permitted to submit a tender.
Regarding it being contract by “limited tender”, the contract states: “Supply by particular business: with no reasonable alternative or substitute: to protect exclusive rights or proprietary information”.
It is unclear how there could be “no reasonable alternative” than to give the contract to private Canberra company CPM Reviews.
Frydenberg’s January 28 document carries Dr Vivienne Thom name on its cover, “Executive Reviewer, CPM Reviews”.
Both Thom and CPM Reviews have repeatedly failed to respond to requests for comment from The Klaxon over the past month, and despite repeated attempts we have been unable to make any contact with Thom.
Despite repeated approaches CPM Reviews won’t provide any information at all, not even confirming Thom’s departure.
Vivienne Thom. Source: Supplied
The AusTender system shows Treasury entered another contract with CPM Reviews, on top of the $110,000.
That contract is for $35,000 and began on Monday January 4, the first business day back after the Christmas and New Year break.
January 4 was between CPM Reviews handing Thom’s “final report” to Treasury on December 17 and Frydenberg releasing his fudged version of Thom’s report on January 29.
The January 4 CPM Reviews contract contains much the same information as the first one (and the amendment).
It was provided to the private company on a “limited tender” basis and the reason for the contract is given as “management advisory services”.
Regarding the $35,000 payment, Treasury said it had “not engaged CPM Reviews under any other contractual arrangements relating to the ASIC review and report.”
Yet, Treasury and Kennedy refused to answer when we asked what that $35,000 January 4 CPM Reviews contract was for or what it was related to.
– Is Treasury (and other government departments) paying over the odds in order to get favourable “investigations” completed, and then hiding the true cost by making additional payments after the fact?
– Was the more than doubling of the ASIC review fee the day before the final report was officially handed to Treasury a way of getting CPM Reviews to water down or remove particularly adverse information about Coalition appointees Shipton and Crennan?
– Was the additional $25,000 payment on January 4 to help Treasury pressure CPM Reviews to allow Treasury to prepare its highly doctored version of Thom’s report that Frydenberg released on January 29?
– Did Thom resign from her highly-paid role of over four years because CPM Reviews undermined her extremely important report into corruption at the top of the corruption regulator?
As previously reported, Frydenberg only called the review into ASIC after Auditor-General Grant Hehir, fearful of an ongoing government cover-up, forced it into the public arena.
ASIC Deputy Chairman, Daniel Crennan QC, who received almost $70,000 in illegal rental payments from ASIC, stood down after the scandal broke on October 23.
Shipton, who received $118,557 in improper personal “tax advice”, provided by consultancy KPMG, despite it also having been a long-time “internal auditor” inside ASIC, “stood aside” when the scandal broke.
On the back of his fudged January 29 report, Frydenberg claimed he was “satisfied” ASIC chair Shipton had engaged in no wrongdoing.
That’s despite a large amount of evidence showing the exact opposite – including even in Frydenberg’s own doctored version of the Thom report – as we have previously revealed.
Despite protesting Shipton’s innocence, at the same time he announced that the ASIC chairman – who had been fighting hard to stay in the job and who was only three years in to his five-year term – would be replaced within three months.
(Shipton was put back in charge of ASIC and remains there on his $800,000-plus annual salary).
As previously reported, Frydenberg almost certainly knew about the ASIC scandal long before Hehir sent an “official”, so-called “section 26” letter on October 22.
(It was a highly unusual step, which Hehir saw as necessary given the ongoing cover-up, and appears to be the first time a section 26 letter – an avenue open to the Auditor-General if they have concerns about serious illegality or similar concerns – has ever been issued).
Yet in his October 23 statement, Frydenberg suggested that the October 22 letter was the first he had heard of it.
“On 22 October 2020 I received correspondence from the Auditor-General for Australia bringing to my attention matters that he identified while conducting an audit of ASIC’s annual financial statements,” Frydenberg said.
The AusTender documents show (and it has now been confirmed by Treasury) that by October 22 CPM had already been formally engaged to conduct its ASIC “review” a week earlier, on October 15.
Help us get the truth out from as little as $10/month.
The need for fearless, independent media has never been greater. Journalism is on its knees – and the media landscape is riddled with vested interests. Please consider subscribing for as little as $10 a month to help us keep holding the powerful to account.