20 May 2024

Pocock wants procurement reform and uses federal budget to make his point

| Chris Johnson
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David Pocock on a large screen at a business breakfast

David Pocock at the Canberra Business Chamber post-Budget Breakfast. Photo: CBC.

Independent ACT senator David Pocock is on a government procurement reform push and has used this week’s federal budget to continue his drive for serious change.

Speaking on a budget breakfast panel hosted by the Canberra Business Chamber and the Institute of Public Accountants, Senator Pocock said Australia was at risk of leaving behind its homegrown tech industry and other sectors without changing how the government spends its money.

“We could very much have a future made in Australia by American companies,” he said in reference to the budget’s flagship Future Made in Australia initiative.

“If we’re serious about a Future Made in Australia, then let’s start with procurement reform.”

The senator has positioned himself as a champion for SMEs (small to medium enterprises) and says there seems to be a bias against local companies.

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A Senate inquiry he helped to set up is looking into sovereign tech and is due to report by 30 June with recommendations for reform.

The Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration’s inquiry is particularly concerned with the adequacy of current Federal Government procurement policies, the challenges faced by smaller Australian tech companies, and opportunities for policy reform.

The committee also investigates the use of non-sovereign tech across the public sector, the level of engagement between the federal government and Australian tech companies, and the effectiveness of processes for tracking supplier performance.

The inquiry has received 59 submissions, including from the CEO of a leading Canberra-based IT company calling for sovereign capability to be a factor in government tender evaluations.

In a recent hearing of the committee inquiry, Trellis Data CEO Michael Gately said while the government was very supportive of Australian service-based industries, the same can’t be said for product-based businesses.

“We have world-leading capability in AI and are backed by Australia’s largest deep tech venture capitalists as a result,” Mr Gately said.

“But we get most of our revenue from overseas. That’s a difficult thing to handle when you want to create an Australian situation first in terms of AI capability.

“Knowing how good our tech is and knowing that the other companies I’ve referred to are from other countries is a difficult thing to overcome.”

Senator Pocock took to social media recently to explain how the inquiry hearings are showing the parliament how advanced Australia’s tech sector is, and how government procurement can better take advantage of what’s on offer locally.

It has also discussed what needs to change to better support Australia’s emergence and growth of innovative tech companies in this country.

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He said the government needs to do more to match its words with actions when it comes to procurement.

“It’s time for procurement reform with teeth,” he said.

“We can’t have a Future Made in Australia if our government isn’t taking every opportunity to buy from Australian companies, especially SMEs.

“I’ve heard from many local tech companies who are world leaders in their field but can’t get a foot in the door with government procurement.”

The independent senator also used Wednesday’s post-budget panel session to link procurement reform to the PricewaterhouseCoopers breach-of-trust scandal.

He said that while PwC’s actions have illuminated the big four accountancy firms, the effect is that all government consultancies are affected.

The concerted push to reduce the spend on consultants to the Australian Public Service could have some not so welcome impacts.

External consultants are necessary, he said, so why not look more to the “hugely competent” smaller firms?

“One of the potential really big outcomes of this is that the big four can wear it, but the SMEs will suffer and go out of business, and we end up being forced to go back to the big four,” Senator Pocock said.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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