The Federal Government’s IT supplier advocate Don Easter has called for greater flexibility in public sector buying programs as he enters his second year on the job.
Easter was re-appointed in May under the $8.2 million Supplier Advocate Program, part of the Government's $19.1 million Australian Industry Participation package.
His second year sees him keen to cut red tape and rules that prevent small-to-medium suppliers from closing deals with agencies.
“I’d like to see the smaller deals done faster with short forms”, Easter said.
One of Easter's pet hates was the $80,000 threshold for purchases. It was a mandatory requirement for contracts of that size to be subjected to the rigours of an open market tender.
The threshold was referenced to the Australian-US Free Trade Agreement (AUS-FTA) under the section concerning government procurement.
However Easter was surprised that the Queensland Government’s procurement policy sets the threshold for such requirements at $675,000.
A Department of Finance & Regulation spokesman confirmed the thresholds were referenced to the same AUS-FTA but that under state governments were able to establish higher thresholds under "international convention".
Easter raised concerns that tight procurement protocols frustrated sellers and buyers, adding that buyers may not bid for some projects they could handle because the overheads were perceived as too high.
One throat to choke
Easter also questioned the trend for some agencies to rally around a single prime contractor for all their IT requirements.
Known as “one throat to choke”, Easter queried whether these agencies reliant on single primes had outsourced too much.
The tendency to favour the incumbent in such deals could lead to an agency having difficulty viewing their operations outside the prism of interest of that particular supplier.
Easter said this year he would focus more on export opportunities for SMEs, a move that was prompted in part by Austrade’s recent restructure and bias toward developing countries.
“We are not sure of the precise plans yet. I won’t duplicate what Austrade and AusIndustry are doing though. I’ll talk to the industry bodies.
"The innovation council for IT, chaired by Ian Birks – the former chief of AIIA - came up with the idea that the council should promote IT exports.
"I’m going to get engaged in that. It expands my role a little bit beyond just government as a buyer.
"Some companies have put to me that government is not my main market, anyway. I’m focused on international expansion.
"They like government as a reference client - but it is not necessarily the market segment they have been chasing as their main strategy."