So what is a “competitive evaluation process”?

There are various types of tender processes within the Commonwealth. There are “sole source” purchases, where there’s only one supplier ever involved. There are “select tenders”, where a limited number of suppliers are invited to participate. Then there are open tenders, which are advertised by the government and open to any supplier who wants to make a bid.

All pretty straightforward. But today, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews appears to have invented a new one — “competitive evaluation” — while explaining the government’s plans to contract and build the next generation of Royal Australian Navy submarines.

On the weekend, in order to secure the support of a single South Australian senator in yesterday’s leadership spill motion, the Abbott camp offered to backflip on its previous decision that the submarines would be acquired offshore rather than being built in South Australia by ASC, the government-owned ship builder. Now there’s been a partial backflip on that backflip: the government’s only commitment is that ASC could, vaguely, “participate” in the process.

There’s something for everyone in this mess. The original decision to go offshore was the sensible one — Australia has a wretched record of building submarines, and giving the job to ASC would have risked a repeat of the disastrous Collins Class procurement process. And yet the government insisted that the decision was made merely because it didn’t have time to carry out a proper tender process — all the while rumours swirled that the Prime Minister had given Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a secret nod about buying Japanese submarines. We’re only talking about $20 billion and one of the core components of Australia’s defence needs — nothing too important.

Thank heavens good government started yesterday. Not a moment too soon.

Peter Fray

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