KAREN MID­DLE­TON

The se­nate has or­dered the tabling of Tourism Aus­tralia con­tracts from the time lead­ing up to Scott Mor­ri­son’s sack­ing, but the prime min­is­ter con­tin­ues to ar­gue their con­fi­den­tial­ity. By Karen Mid­dle­ton.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page -

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son is re­fus­ing to pub­lish de­tails of two miss­ing ad­ver­tis­ing and me­dia con­tracts worth more than $100 mil­lion that pre­ceded his sack­ing as Tourism Aus­tralia’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in 2006, in­sist­ing they are con­fi­den­tial be­cause the ser­vices they cov­ered were de­liv­ered over­seas.

On Thurs­day, the se­nate sup­ported a La­bor mo­tion to or­der the gov­ern­ment to pro­duce “all doc­u­ments” re­lat­ing to any con­tracts Tourism Aus­tralia en­tered be­tween Jan­uary 1, 2004 and Jan­uary

31, 2006. It de­manded the con­tracts be tabled by 10am on Mon­day.

The two con­tracts Mor­ri­son had specif­i­cally de­clared con­fi­den­tial are un­der­stood to have been signed in Aus­tralia. The first one, for global cre­ative ad­ver­tis­ing ser­vices, cov­ered the de­sign, pro­duc­tion and roll­out of the con­tro­ver­sial “Where the bloody hell are you?” tourism cam­paign, which in­volved a tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment filmed on­shore.

The prime min­is­ter’s ar­gu­ment, de­liv­ered in a let­ter to the se­nate by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mathias Cor­mann, con­trasts with in­for­ma­tion pub­lished about the ten­ders be­fore the con­tracts were let.

De­tails of the con­tracts them­selves are not avail­able on the AusTen­der web­site, where gov­ern­ment con­tracts are posted. But the orig­i­nal ten­der de­tails were pub­lished and re­main on AusTen­der, list­ing the lo­ca­tion of the two then­prospec­tive con­tracts as “ACT, NSW, Vic, SA, WA, Qld, Tas, Other, Over­seas”.

As po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on the prime min­is­ter in­creased this week, after a dis­as­trous Vic­to­rian state elec­tion re­sult and the de­fec­tion of Lib­eral MP Ju­lia Banks to the cross­bench, Mor­ri­son and Cor­mann dou­bled down on their re­fusal to re­spond to ques­tions about the prime min­is­ter’s ill-fated ten­ure as head of Tourism Aus­tralia in 2005 and 2006.

That pe­riod was the sub­ject of a scathing 2008 Aus­tralian Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice (ANAO) re­port that dis­closed what pre­ceded then tourism min­is­ter Fran Bai­ley’s de­ci­sion to sack Mor­ri­son, backed by then prime min­is­ter John Howard and his de­part­ment.

The au­di­tor’s re­view was among 40 ANAO re­ports across gov­ern­ment tabled that year. It was not among the hand­ful that the watch­dog joint com­mit­tee of pub­lic ac­counts and au­dit ear­marked for fur­ther scru­tiny.

The rea­sons for Mor­ri­son’s dis­missal – var­i­ously blamed on a per­son­al­ity clash with Bai­ley and the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the con­tentious ad cam­paign fea­tur­ing model Lara Bin­gle on a beach – have never been of­fi­cially con­firmed. The Satur­day Pa­per dis­cov­ered the over­looked au­dit and pub­lished its con­tents three weeks ago.

The au­dit fo­cused on three ma­jor con­tracts worth a to­tal of $184 mil­lion but sin­gled out the first two for par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cism, de­tail­ing non-ad­her­ence to pro­cure­ment guide­lines, poor record­keep­ing, ac­tion­ing an un­signed con­tract and with­hold­ing fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion from the board.

While the au­dit did not men­tion Mor­ri­son by name, the con­tracts were ex­e­cuted un­der his ste­ward­ship as agency head.

Be­fore pub­li­ca­tion, nei­ther The Satur­day Pa­per nor AusTen­der staff could lo­cate the con­tracts on the AusTen­der web­site.

The Satur­day Pa­per also sub­mit­ted 18 writ­ten ques­tions to the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice re­lated to both those find­ings and to Mor­ri­son’s ten­ure at and dis­missal from Tourism Aus­tralia.

De­spite re­peated re­quests over three weeks, there has been no re­sponse.

It is un­clear if the gov­ern­ment will com­ply with the se­nate direc­tion to ta­ble the miss­ing con­tracts and as­so­ci­ated doc­u­ments on Mon­day.

After The Satur­day Pa­per re­port ap­peared, the Op­po­si­tion used a sen­a­teonly sit­ting week to ask ques­tions about the ANAO’s find­ings.

Rep­re­sent­ing the prime min­is­ter, Sen­a­tor Cor­mann ini­tially tabled a let­ter say­ing Mor­ri­son had ful­filled the terms of his Tourism Aus­tralia con­tract and cit­ing sta­tis­tics on the suc­cess of the “Where the bloody hell are you?” cam­paign.

This week, an­swer­ing a pre­vi­ous ques­tion from the Op­po­si­tion about the miss­ing con­tracts, Cor­mann tabled an­other let­ter, quot­ing 2005 Com­mon­wealth pro­cure­ment guide­lines and a sep­a­rate 2005 guid­ance on pub­lish­ing obli­ga­tions that said de­tails of any con­tract de­liv­ered over­seas should not be pub­lished.

The sen­a­tor said this was why the con­tract sum­maries were not avail­able on the AusTen­der web­site.

The de­tails of a third con­tract, which the au­di­tor-gen­eral also ex­am­ined in the Tourism Aus­tralia re­port but about which it had less con­cern, are listed there.

The sub­se­quent con­tracts for global cre­ative ser­vices and me­dia ser­vices are also on AusTen­der, signed in 2008 with new con­trac­tors upon the ex­piry of the orig­i­nal now-miss­ing three-year ver­sions.

The 2005 global cre­ative ad­ver­tis­ing con­tract that re­sulted in the “Where the bloody hell are you?” cam­paign – cred­ited with adding $2 bil­lion to the Aus­tralian econ­omy – was awarded to M&C Saatchi.

Mor­ri­son had en­gaged the same com­pany when he was head of New Zealand’s Of­fice of Tourism and Sport in 1998. It was re­spon­si­ble for the highly suc­cess­ful “100% Pure New Zealand” cam­paign.

In his let­ter tabled this week, Cor­mann said the 2005 pub­lish­ing guid­ance “ex­plic­itly re­quired that con­tracts for goods and ser­vices pro­cured over­seas and used over­seas ‘must NOT be re­ported on AusTen­der’ ”.

“The Aus­tralian Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice Re­port of 2008 it­self states: ‘most of Tourism Aus­tralia’s pro­cure­ment ac­tiv­i­ties are ex­empt un­der the CPGs (Com­mon­wealth Pro­cure­ment Guide­lines) be­cause they in­volve the pro­cure­ment of prop­erty or ser­vices out­side Aus­tralia for con­sump­tion out­side Aus­tralia, or the pro­cure­ment of Gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tis­ing ser­vices,” Cor­mann wrote.

The sen­a­tor chose not to in­clude the next sen­tence of the au­dit re­port, which reads: “Nev­er­the­less, where Tourism Aus­tralia chooses to pro­cure ser­vices us­ing a method cov­ered by the CPGs, it is ex­pected to fol­low the CPGs’ re­quire­ments.”

Cor­mann’s let­ter said: “Tourism Aus­tralia has ad­vised my De­part­ment that these con­tracts were for ser­vices that were pro­vided over­seas. As such, I can ad­vise that the con­tracts com­plied with the re­port­ing obli­ga­tions in place at the time.”

The Satur­day Pa­per asked Tourism Aus­tralia about the miss­ing con­tracts more than two weeks ago and was told re­peat­edly that of­fi­cers were look­ing into the is­sue.

This week, after Cor­mann’s let­ter was tabled, Tourism Aus­tralia was asked again. The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s spokes­woman replied that Cor­mann’s let­ter was its re­sponse.

Asked if it was Tourism Aus­tralia’s po­si­tion that no part of ei­ther con­tract was ex­e­cuted in Aus­tralia, the spokes­woman replied: “We are un­able to pro­vide fur­ther de­tails and the rel­e­vant per­son­nel are no longer with the or­gan­i­sa­tion to clar­ify fur­ther par­tic­u­lars.”

She did not ac­knowl­edge that Tourism Aus­tralia’s for­mer man­ag­ing di­rec­tor is now the prime min­is­ter.

The re­sponses came dur­ing a dif­fi­cult week for Mor­ri­son. On Tues­day, just as he was at­tempt­ing to seize back the agenda by an­nounc­ing that next year’s fed­eral bud­get would be brought for­ward a month to April 2 and would in­clude an ear­lier-than-fore­cast sur­plus – box­ing in the elec­tion date as ei­ther May 11 or 18 – Vic­to­rian back­bencher Ju­lia Banks stole his lime­light by quit­ting the Lib­eral Party to be­come an in­de­pen­dent.

Banks had only alerted a few close col­leagues of her in­ten­tions – in­clud­ing new in­de­pen­dent mem­ber for Went­worth Ker­ryn Phelps – but not Mor­ri­son.

“The gift of time and re­flec­tion has pro­vided some clar­ity re­gard­ing the bru­tal blow against the lead­er­ship,” Banks said, de­scrib­ing Mal­colm Turn­bull and his for­mer deputy Julie Bishop as “vi­sion­ary, in­spir­ing lead­ers of sen­si­ble cen­trist lib­eral val­ues”.

She blamed “mem­bers of the re­ac­tionary right wing ” who she said acted for them­selves.

“The after­math of those dark days in Au­gust then acutely laid bare the ma­jor par­ties’ ob­struc­tion­ist and com­bat­ive ac­tions and in­ter­nal games – all for po­lit­i­cal point-scor­ing rather than for timely, prac­ti­cal, sen­si­ble de­ci­sions on mat­ters which Aus­tralians care about,” she said, ref­er­enc­ing Turn­bull’s re­moval from the prime min­is­ter­ship.

Banks called for equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of men and women in par­lia­ment to cre­ate “a cul­ture change”.

Con­ser­va­tives la­belled her a rat and, pri­vately, worse.

Although she guar­an­teed not to back a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion in Mor­ri­son or the gov­ern­ment nor block sup­ply, Banks’s de­par­ture fur­ther re­duced the Coali­tion’s grip on power, leav­ing it with just 73 mem­bers out of 150 in the house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives. That means it needs sup­port from La­bor, the Greens or the cross­bench to pass any leg­is­la­tion and faces the risk of hav­ing changes forced upon it that it does not want.

Banks’s move – which some col­leagues con­demned and oth­ers cheered qui­etly – gives the cross­bench greater power to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment on a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing mov­ing refugees and asy­lum seek­ers out of off­shore de­ten­tion and in­tro­duc­ing a na­tional in­tegrity com­mis­sion.

Phelps and fel­low cross­benchers an­nounced on Thurs­day that next week they would push to have the last de­tainee chil­dren re­moved from Nauru.

They are also con­sid­er­ing whether to re­fer Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton to the High Court to de­ter­mine if he is con­sti­tu­tion­ally el­i­gi­ble to re­main in par­lia­ment, due to his fam­ily’s child­care busi­nesses hav­ing re­ceived gov­ern­ment sub­sidy.

Dut­ton missed par­lia­ment this week after break­ing his arm and re­quir­ing surgery at the week­end. As is stan­dard for med­i­cal leave, the Op­po­si­tion pro­vided a pair – mean­ing one of its MPs ab­stained from votes – so the gov­ern­ment was not dis­ad­van­taged by his ab­sence.

The man­ager of gov­ern­ment busi­ness, De­fence Min­is­ter Christo­pher Pyne, has warned that if non-gov­ern­ment MPs move to re­fer Dut­ton, then other MPs, in­clud­ing sev­eral on the La­bor side who have faced ques­tions about their own el­i­gi­bil­ity, might also be re­ferred.

The Vic­to­rian elec­tion re­sult em­bold­ened some Lib­eral mod­er­ates and oth­ers in the party to also speak out, is­su­ing pub­lic de­mands to eschew a con­ser­va­tive so­cial agenda they say is work­ing against them.

Julie Bishop called on her party to do a deal with the Op­po­si­tion to in­tro­duce the na­tional en­ergy guar­an­tee, the pol­icy that cost Turn­bull his job and which La­bor has now adopted.

As par­lia­ment rose, Mor­ri­son headed off on a light­ning-fast trip to Ar­gentina for the Group of 20, ac­com­pa­nied by Cor­mann in place of Trea­surer Josh Fry­den­berg.

Banks’s de­fec­tion made the num­bers too pre­car­i­ous to risk hav­ing two lower house min­is­ters away, so Fry­den­berg stayed be­hind.

He will be keep­ing an eye on things while Mor­ri­son de­liv­ers ser­vices over­seas – just like those two con­tracts he

• ar­ranged that no­body is al­lowed to see.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son dur­ing ques­tion time this week. KAREN MID­DLE­TON is The Satur­day Pa­per’s chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent.

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