Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert (Images: AAP)

Federal Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck has given his in-principle support for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to examine government aged care tenders, following Inq’s revelations that a multimillion-dollar contract was awarded without open tender to the Mable workforce platform.

Mable Technologies Ltd is backed by a powerful network of investors, including Liberal party members and donors. It was awarded a $5.8 million contract in April to help provide staff for COVID-affected aged care homes but was initially unable to provide the staff required.

“The royal commission has been established with very broad terms of reference to enable it to look at all aspects of the aged care sector,” a spokesperson said. “In principle, Minister Colbeck supports its consideration of the management of tenders.”

Mable had been “directly sourced” under a limited tender, according to the federal Health Department. No details have since been provided on exactly how many staff Mable provided and to which facilities.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has led crossbench calls for the royal commission to include the Mable contract and how tenders are handled in aged care.

“I’m deeply concerned about reports on the tendering process for the surge aged care workforce in NSW,” Siewert said. “It smacks of ‘jobs for the boys’ and it appears that it was not adequately assessed given the reports that the required workforce couldn’t be delivered.”

Siewert described the tendering process as “outrageous”, given the urgency of the threat of COVID-19.

“It is scandalous that private companies are making profits while failing to protect their residents or provide emergency staff which they have been awarded a government contract to provide,” she said.

The royal commission examined the Mable labour supply model in its hearings in August, though not the tendering process. Other tenders let by the Health Department include a large contract awarded to Aspen Medical, also with a limited tender, to supply emergency staff. 

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said the Mable tender demonstrated the need for a federal independent commission against corruption. 

“This government has developed an appalling track-record of kowtowing to donors and vested interests. Seems everyone is in for their slice of taxpayer-funded largesse,” Wilkie said. “What’s needed instead is some integrity and transparency.”

Independent South Australian Senator Rex Patrick said the use of limited tenders was “prolific” in government and the using limited tenders gave rise to “very valid” concerns. 

“It directly and unequivocally removes competition from the procurement process and, thus, raises value-for-money concerns. On account of a lack of transparency, it also gives cause for those watching to question fairness — because willing suppliers may be excluded — and to raise allegations of malfeasance,” he said.

Senator Patrick told Inq he accepted there are reasons for limited tenders in certain circumstances, but that “reform and greater transparency” were needed.

The Centre for Public Integrity, which has campaigned for a national integrity commission, said that “open, fair and transparent tender processes” were important for minimising corruption risk. 

“The public has a right to know where public money is being spent,” executive director Han Aulby told Crikey.

The Mable platform, often described as Uber for aged care, receives marketing and advertising support across News Corp media platforms in exchange for equity. Mable’s investors include investment banker Matthew Playfair who, along with his wife, helped in the election campaign of Wentworth MP Dave Sharma last year.

Playfair’s wife, Fiona Atwill, has been involved in a local Liberal branch and is the daughter of Liberal Party grandee Sir John Atwill.