Spotlight on consultants after big four billing rates leaked
“Appropriate sanctions are available under the MAS head of agreement, such as suspension or termination from the MAS panel, for a service provider that breaches their obligations,” she said.
“As a further level of oversight to ensure service providers have acted in good faith and have not used the supplier matrix to gain commercial advantage, Finance will work with Commonwealth entities to undertake spot checks of responses to requests for quotes by the 22 service providers.”
The spot checks would continue for at least 12 months to ensure suppliers were “acting in good faith” and that the leaked information was “not being exploited” for commercial advantage.
An update to the panel pricing would also be brought forward to allow firms to either maintain their prices, apply for a prorated adjustment based on two quarters’ movements in the wage price index, or decrease prices.
Senator Gallagher said of the 22 suppliers provided access to the documents, 12 downloaded the information, but just two were reported to have read it. All were required to delete it under the deed of confidentiality signed.
But in the shadow of the PwC tax scandal, in which the big four firm sought to commercialise confidential government information, some companies whose information was leaked believe the damage could not be undone.
Scrambling to lock down the leak
The Department of Health and Ageing was responsible for distributing the document containing the billing rates on six occasions between November 3 and November 9. As part of the Senate disclosure, Senator Gallagher handed over dozens of emails between agencies after the leak was discovered which show how Canberra’s mandarins scrambled to lock down the information.
“As you can appreciate, this document is commercial in confidence and is not meant for distribution,” one Finance Department official wrote to a Health Department official on November 10, a week after the leak.
The document provided shows Senator Gallagher was not formally briefed on the matter until December 8, more than a month after the leak occurred and a week after the details were published by the Financial Review.
Handwritten in the margins of the briefing, Senator Gallagher demanded to know why eight suppliers at the time were holding out on signing the deeds of confidentiality and what possible consequences could be imposed.
Finance assured the Finance Minister that steps had been taken to ensure the same mistake did not occur again, including improving clearance processes, adding “Commercial-in-Confidence” to the title of the document, and providing refresher training to staff involved in uploading documents.