Subbies stuck in middle of war of words

Defence Minister Marise Payne and Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis during a visit at HMAS Albatross.
Defence Minister Marise Payne and Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis during a visit at HMAS Albatross.

ANALYSIS

Words can be used to say anything.

Like statistics, they can be used to shape an argument or belief.

This seems to be the case in the dispute between the Department of Defence and Defence Minister Marise Payne and the office of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman [ASBFEO] over the millions owed to local subcontractors on a multi-million dollar Defence project at HMAS Albatross.

There have been conflicting accounts of when “reports”, “summaries”, “meetings took place”, when the Defence minister “became aware of the issue or should have been aware of the issue”.

The ASBFEO says it first met with Defence in November 2017 and presented a  summary report of the investigation into the project and covering letter to Defence on December 18, 2017.

An ASBFEO spokesman said the organisation had a further meeting with senior Defence personnel regarding the summary report, which included recommendations.

“We met with Defence to discuss those recommendations early in the new year,” the spokesperson said.

“Defence knew the outcome of the ombudsman's investigations, views and recommendations for a way forward.”

Subsequent requests were made of Defence Minister Payne’s office by Fairfax Media.

We asked if the minister had seen the report, and if so, would she be taking action on the ombudsman's recommendations?

A spokesperson for the minister said the “ombudsman first provided her recommendations on this matter to the minister by letter on the evening of August 2,  2018.”

“The minister will respond in due course,” the spokesperson said.

Fairfax Media has been told the ASBFEO provided Defence with a letter and an attached document titled ‘Summary of Assistance and Research Activity’ - including claims it was “not a report”.

It is claimed neither the letter nor the attached document contained any recommendations, including those currently being reported in the media such as a recommendation that Defence pay Hewatt subcontractors.

It is understood Defence received further correspondence from the ombudsman in March providing further information regarding procurement processes but it is claimed again the letter did not contain any recommendations.

An ASBFEO spokesperson said the summary report may not have gone to the ministerial office - but Defence was “certainly aware of it”.

Nitpicking over the definition of “summary report”, “report”,  “investigation”, “bunch of papers” have followed.

The ASBFEO said the ombudsman's investigation report, including recommendations, was forwarded to the Defence Minister on August 2.

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