Redactions mar Daintree Ferry Audit

Daintree River Ferry

Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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The now released probity audit, undertaken by Local Buy Probity and costing $45,000, examining the three-year process for the Daintree River Ferry Service contract, offers a number of recommendations but is overshadowed by redactions in the latter part of the report.

There are numerous redactions in the area titled: Attachment A - Project Timeline Daintree River Ferry Contract Renewal - Activity Timeline.

And another area titled: Attachment C - Summary of key contractual terms 2005-6 Daintree River Ferry Contract Summary of key contract terms from the 2005-2006 contract that were relevant to the negotiations through-out 2020/21, there are five bullet points which have all been redacted.

The full report

The report can be read here.

Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr, who along with Councillors Lisa Scomazzon and Peter McKeown, voted in favour of the report for a 3-2 outcome at a Special Meeting on Tuesday, (Councillors Abigail Noli and Roy Zammataro opposed it), said he is still waiting on relevant advice as to what can be released.

“The figures that have been redacted could be deemed commercial in confidence because they were in contract negotiations. The negotiations have now finished and I believe that it is in the public interest for these figures to now be public for proper and true transparency. We are currently seeking the legal advice required to make this happen,” said Kerr.

But Kerr said the report gave Council and the community confidence in how staff handled the contract.

“I welcome the findings of the Probity Auditor regarding the procurement and contracting processes associated with the Daintree Ferry.

“I look forward to working with the Council and the wider community to continue to deliver a sustainable transport solution that meets the needs of residents and visitors.”

The audit involved examining more than 1500 documents as well as interviews with key internal and external stake holders.

The scope of the probity audit related to a review of the decisions of Council in relation to its overall Daintree River ferry strategy with respect to its short, medium and longer-term procurement and contract solutions.

The appointment process followed a Council resolution on 28 May 21 directing the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to engage a probity auditor through the Audit Committee Chair.

Summary opinion

In its “summary opinion”, the report stated: “The focus of the Probity Audit was on the procurement and contracting processes applied by the DSC in respect of the overall Daintree River ferry service strategy. This included examining Council’s approach and solutions to its immediate, interim and longer-term requirements (the project).

“The project included consideration of a two-ferry option which is yet to be finalised. The position on 1 July 2021 was that Council had acquired ownership of the current ferry and had entered into a five-year operating contract with a service provider.

“The second ferry option is to be considered further.

“The audit commenced with a review of the early planning and strategy development that began in 2018. The methodology adopted included interviewing the major stakeholders (The Mayor, elected representatives, CEO and council officers). It involved developing and reviewing a procurement timeline of events. It included examining the composition and operation of the Project Control Group, the ELT, reviewing Council meeting reports and minutes, reviewing specifications, tender documents, tender processes, tender submissions, negotiation records, reports and contracts.

“The methodology included examining the various procurement related decisions that were taken and the supporting documents behind those decisions.

Recommendations

The report offered the following recommendations:

  • Council reviews its communication protocols.
  • Council continues to conduct closed and possibly informal briefing sessions on major issues separate from its deliberative and decision-making functions and review the frequency of such sessions and possibly hold more frequent in-house briefing sessions for all councillors on major issues and forthcoming reports. 24
  • Any future contract with a ferry/owner operator that includes a purchase option should include a formula to calculate the purchase price.
  • Council considers alternative methods of conducting preliminary and market research in advance of a major procurement activity.
  • Council establishes a negotiation protocol, methodology and policy and train selected personnel in negotiation.
  • In the case of the second ferry contract, Council continues its market research, firms up its requirement and focuses on developing an acquisition strategy that puts the Council into a sound negotiating position before engaging the market.
  • Future contract award recommendations describe the status of contract and prerequisites for execution more clearly.
  • When establishing project timelines, key external events should be factored in e.g: forthcoming local government elections and community influences.

Conclusion

In its conclusion, the report stated “The project was well-managed through a Project Control Group that included the Chief Executive Officer and appropriately qualified and expert Council Officers.

“The process leading up to the decision of Council on 3 December 2019 to move to the contracting phase was compliant with the regulations and well managed having regard to the circumstances at the time.

“There were complex contractual issues that still had to be resolved when the Local Government Elections were called on 22 February 2020 when the contract was put on hold and that the CEO made this decision in good faith on legal advice.

“The actions taken and processes applied throughout the entire process were consistent with the Local Government Regulations and the Local Government Act, and were conducted competently and professionally and in Council’s best interests.

“The various tendering, evaluation, and selection, negotiation and contract execution environments were characterised by confidentiality, security, objectivity, independence, and fairness; and were conducted ethically, with transparency and integrity.”


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