The Age today diligently continues to poke at the appointment of a Labor-connected PR firm to handle media liaison for the 2020 Summit without a tender process.
CMAX Communications was run by Christian Taubenschlag, now press advisor to Joel Fitzgibbon. It was contracted to handle media liaison for the summit. Taubenschlag’s wife Tara was in charge of handling media inquiries in the run-up to the summit and arranging media access during the two days.
Crikey’s experience was consistent with that of a tipster unhappy about volunteering for the summit when a Labor-connected firm was paid for its role. Both in the lead up to and during the summit, we found that all staff, and particularly the many media liaison volunteers who were giving their time for the event gratis, were very helpful and made a huge event run, at least from a journalist’s perspective, very smoothly and with a strong sense of goodwill.
The one exception was Taubenschlag herself, who was overheard boasting of her agressive tactics when dealing with the press and who insisted on trying to disrupt Crikey’s observation of the Governance stream.
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The Prime Minister’s office has defended the hiring of CMAX on the basis that there wasn’t enough time to conduct a tender process. Bullsh-t.
A full-blown tender process would’ve taken longer than the time available, but a select tender process based on invited Expressions of Interest from several experienced firms could’ve been conducted in a matter of days.
However, there was nothing dodgy about the appointment under Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines. The CMAX contract is said to be $60,000 and therefore falls below the Guidelines threshold of $80,000. Only above this level do mandatory tender processes apply, which prohibit direct sourcing (which this was) except under special circumstances.
But it may shock and stun readers to know that bureaucrats are not above divvying up tenders, or estimating their costs, so that they fall below this threshold and are not required to comply with requirements like open tendering. Usually this is done because they know who will do the best – or the right – job.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Someone senior in the organisation of the 2020 summit within Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Prime Minister’s Office decided that the Taubenschlags’ firm should get the gig. This may have been because they had worked with them before and knew Ms Taubenschlag could do the job well. Or it may have been because the firm was Labor-connected. But under this process, we’ll never know.