LNP’s boot camp operator decision open to accusations of favouritism: Auditor-General

Former Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie. Photo: Glenn HuntFormer Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has “rejected” the Auditor-General’s finding, saying he was “proud” of his decision on boot camps because he concentrated on outcomes, not what was cheapest.
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Mr Bleijie said he stood by his decision and was not a “tick and flick” minister, who just approved what his department presented.

While not going as far to say the Auditor-General got it wrong, he said he “made the call” and “I’m glad I did”.

“Because they have shown and they have proven they had the runs on the board, they have proven results with the successors of turning young kids around,” he said on Thursday afternoon.

He said he did not re-open the tender process to others when the decision was made to make a”super” boot camp, as it was “about timing” and too much had been “wasted” already.

“The Auditor-General has essentially said there were cheaper options available,” Mr Bleijie said.

“Well, I’m sorry, when you are in government, when you are spending tax-payer’s money, cheaper is not always best.”

The Auditor-General said the other options were “suitable”, which Mr Bleijie also rejected.

“Because, the Auditor-General, they look at sums and money and figures, the Auditor-General’s office don’t run youth justice programs, many Queensland organisations do, particularly the groups which are running our programs, quite successfully I might add.”

However Mr Bleijie did draw attention to the Auditor-General’s reports into Labor’s health programs, including the $2.2 billion hospital cost blow out, which he said the Auditor-General got right.

Earlier

Newman Government Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie’s decision to over-rule his department’s recommendations for boot camp operators and instead award the multi-million contract to a company of his own choice not only cost the state extra money, it “weakened” accountability, failed in transparency and was open “to accusations of favouritism”.

In his 13th report for the 2014-15 financial year, Auditor-General Andrew Greaves also found that those accusations of favouritism “cannot be readily rebutted” because Mr Bleijie and his staff were unable to provide a “clear documentation trail” which led to the decision to award Beyond Billabong the $2.2 million contract despite other proven operators offering a more cost-effective service.

Mr Greaves found Mr Bleijie’s decisions for the Fraser Coast and Lincoln Springs boot camps “does not demonstrate that economy in procurement was achieved”.

“The evidence indicates that suitable, lower cost service providers were available,” the Auditor-General reported.

“The lack of any other evidence to support the final position taken for these boot camps, itself a failure to adhere to the government’s own documentations standards, serves to weaken accountability for these decisions.

“The lack of transparency also weakened program administration as it clouded which part was responsible for what costs.

“…Actual experience since the two contracts were awarded serves to reinforce our view particularly for the sentenced youth boot camp.

“Contract variations and payments were made to the service provider in excess of contracted amounts.

“Capital improvements for, and payments to, the sublessors of the sentenced boot camp facility were made on very favourable commercial terms.

“These all represent value transfers with little certainty that the state has received equivalent value in exchange.

“These extra costs also raise significant doubt about whether the full cost of the program was understood when it was approved, and whether the state is unnecessarily subsiding the sentenced boot camp service provider for the costs the provider is, or should have been, contractually bound to absorb.”

Mr Greaves and his audit team found that the original budget for the boot camp trail of $4.9 million would blow out over the two years to $12.3 million, while the two-year full cost of the sentenced boot camp program has grown by $7 million over the two years to $10 million.

“This includes variations to the contract in favour of the service provider, with no clear rationale,” he found.

“It also includes the need to invest heavily in supporting infrastructure and security services. Payments have also been made to service providers which are in excess of amounts contracted and outside the terms of the respective contracts.

“It is clear from experience to date that the project for the extended boot camp trial was not fully costed, or that the costs were not fully understood by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, prior to its approval.”

As revealed by Fairfax Media in May last year, the audit also found the state was providing Queensland Corrections staff help with the Lincoln Springs sentenced youth boot camp’s security services, as well as paying $240,410 to upgrade the camp’s private residence and existing farm infrastructure, despite the camp only utilising part of the land.

Mr Greave’s office found the contracts for the Fraser Coast camp and the combined super Lincoln Springs camp did not provide taxpayers with the best value for money.

“For Fraser Coast, the state is paying $2900 more per participant than for the Rockhampton [camp] and $5500 more per participant than the evaluation panel’s preferred tender.”

The audit revealed no issues with the department’s expression of interest process that could have led to the Attorney-General over-ruling the panel’s decisions, and neither Mr Bleijie nor his director-general could provide documentation to show why they made the decision.

“The Attorney-General rejected the panel recommendations for the Cairns and Townsville sentenced youth boot camp and made his own decision to combine these camps into a super boot camp,” the audit found.

“The super boot camp was not subject to a new EOI process and the Attorney-General advised us that he awarded the contract based on his own review of the original tenders, which were for two separate boot camps.”

Mr Greaves found that method was “unsafe”.

“None of the tenderers for wither the Townsville or Cairns camps were given the opportunity to resubmit offers to run a combined camp.

“It was also not made clear to prospective tenderers that the government, as it has now done, was willing to provide and fund a suitable facility for the sentenced youth boot camp and also to provide Queensland Corrective Services staff to augment security at the facility.”

Had they known what the state was prepared to offer, Mr Greaves found, their own offers may have been even more cost effective.

In May last year, Mr Bleijie defended his decision.

“The people who were recommended by the evaluation team were not in my view – and this is about government taking responsibility – they weren’t in my view able to run it because we had similar experiences with a similar organisation in Cairns that started this whole debate about the boot camps,” he said then.

“We wanted an organisation that could get a cattle station up and running, that could get young kids on horses, mustering cattle, all sorts of things, which they are doing.

“We took personal responsibility to make sure the government had the best people to run the boot camp.”

Seven News revealed Mr Bleijie’s choice, Beyond Billabong, made a $5500 donation to the LNP shortly after winning the contract.

Mr Bleijie, who also said he was “glad” he made the decision he did, said he was unaware of any donations.

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