Kristina Keneally questions why Gary Barnier was awarded $920,000 Department of Health contract under limited tender – Mable contract not being renegotiated

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Senator Keneally (pictured above) also had a ‘bee in her bonnet’ on the issue of Department of Health tenders for aged care – particularly a limited tender that saw the ex-Opal CEO given two contracts to perform a financial risk assessment of residential care providers for the Department.

Tender records show that the first contract was for $415,800 to a residential aged care financial viability project between January and September 2020 with the tender limited “due to an absence of competition for technical reasons”.

This contract was then extended through to October 2020 to June 2021 at a cost of $503,800.

Barnier report showed one-third of providers in financial stress

As we reported here, the work completed by Mr Barnier under his consulting firm Cooperage Capital resulted in a report that showed around one-third of providers – representing around 37,000 operating places and $5.3 billion in RADs – were experiencing immediate or imminent financial stress.

Jaye Smith (pictured right), the First Assistant Secretary of the Residential and Flexible Care division who signed off on the contracts, defended their awarding to Mr Barnier, noting that he is a long-time member of the Aged Care Financing Authority (ACFA) and had “unique experience” in identifying providers at financial risk.

His work had helped the Department to develop indicators to identify these providers and cerate outreach services to assist them, Mr Smith added.

Labor seizes on past events to question Government’s tender process

Ms Keneally however questioned this experience, citing a number of issues including the 2011 fire at Opal’s Quakers Hill aged care home that led to the deaths of 11 residents and the 2017 allegations of bullying against Mr Barnier levelled on the ABC’s 7.30 Report.

“Is that the kind of real-world experience that the Department was looking for?” Ms Keneally said mockingly.

Aged Care Minister, Senator Richard Colbeck, maintained however that Mr Barnier was employed for his financial expertise.

“Clearly those matters were investigated through appropriate channels at the time through the appropriate authorities,” he said.

“I have confidence in Mr Barnier’s financial capacity which is the skill set he has been employed to provide to the Department… I’m not seeking to pass comment or otherwise on the allegations that you place against Mr Barnier.”

Surge workforce to continue until end of financial year

Mr Smith added that the Department does complete a due diligence process before anyone is appointed to ACFA.

Ms Keneally clearly wanted to question this further, but was out of time – however she did make the officials take on notice whether any other ACFA members have contracts with the Department.

The meeting also revealed that online support worker platform Mable’s contract to provide a surge workforce was not being continued – but the Government’s contracts with other providers including Aspen Medical, Healthcare Australia and Torrens will be extended until 30 June 2021 and have already amounted to $14 million.

What will the final bill be?