A controversial tender to award the Ceremonies for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast to American company Jack Morton Worldwide (JMW) was conducted fairly, it was announced today.
Queensland’s Minister for the Commonwealth Games Stirling Hinchliffe told Parliament in Brisbane that the complaints of companies beaten for the contract had been examined by a probity auditor and that no rules had been broken.
“As reported, unsuccessful tenderers for the Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies raised concerns about the procurement process,” said Hinchliffe.
“In a letter they sent to the Auditor-General they said they wanted to ‘place on the record’ that their objection is only based on concerns with the process, not that the contract was awarded to a firm with global links.
“They said in this letter that the “industry is specialised and by nature global [and] as such firms compete for work around the world.
“These concerns were forwarded to an independent probity auditor and they have reported back to the Department.
“This morning – in a transparent manner – I have tabled the auditor’s advice in Parliament and it is being provided to the Auditor-General.
“The independent probity auditor has advised the tender was fair and in accordance with the Queensland Government procurement policy principles.
“The tender was consistent with the State Procurement Plan 2014-2018.
“This plan guides tender processes and is about ensuring transparency and no political interference in government procurement processes.
“It is also about getting the best value for money for Queenslanders, and based around sound principles to ensure projects are delivered at the highest standard possible.
“These principles are designed to ensure government is kept at arm’s length from all tenders.”
Jack Morton’s office in London had conceived, planned, and delivered the Opening and Closing ceremonies for the last edition of the Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow in 2014.
They also produced both Ceremonies at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, the last time the event was held in Australia.
JMW’s appointment, nevertheless, sparked fury among the three Australian firms who failed in their bids for the Ceremonies.
Led by Olympics creative director Ric Birch, who coordinated the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, as well as at the 1992 and 2000 Olympics in Barcelona and Sydney, a protesting group, which also included unsuccessful bidders David Atkins and Julie Brooks, had called for a review of the process.
They also wrote a scathing letter to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to contest the appointment as they feel there are local Australian companies who would do a better job of the Ceremonies.
Tony Cochrane, a prominent Gold Coast businessman, also criticised the decision, claiming the Queensland Government should “go back to square one” and that there was a “smell around this whole process”.
Gold Coast 2018 had forced to deny conflict of interest allegations after it was revealed they received technical advice during the tender process from two people who used to work for JMW.
Mik Aukland, recently appointed Gold Coast 2018 technical director and who was head of Ceremonies at Glasgow 2014, worked for JMW for nine years and his partner Celia was with them up until 2014.
The couple then went on to form their own company called Red Thread.
Gold Coast 2018 may have been cleared by the probity auditor of doing anything wrong during the process but have been criticised by Hinchliffe over how they handled the announcement of the decision.
“From the outset, I have been concerned at the way the process of notifying the bidders was handled,” he said.
“For any company, participating in a tender process is a substantial commitment of time and resources.
“It was not good enough that they were notified before Christmas of the result and then told to expect a debrief sometime in the New Year.
“Everyone should have been debriefed when they were notified – not handed a letter and told to wait until after Christmas.
“All of the bidders are well-respected experts in what is a highly-specialised field that operates in an international marketplace.
“They should have had this courtesy extended to them.
“I believe this would have avoided any misunderstanding and any perception the process was flawed.”
“I have made my views clear to GOLDOC (Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation) the communication with bidders was not good enough.”
The Minister had claimed after JMW, which has offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, were awarded the contract that they were an “Australian” company, upsetting critics who pointed out they were founded in Washington D.C. in 1939 and now have their headquarters in Boston.
Hinchliffe, though, repeated the claim today.
“I want to be clear – the four companies invited to tender are all Australian companies who have had extensive international experience and links,” he said.
The controversy may still not be over, however.
Queensland’s Auditor General may yet still decide to investigate the process.
“I, along with the government, respect the role and independence of the Auditor General,” Hinchliffe said.
“Whether the Auditor General initiates his own investigation, is a matter for him.
“As Minister, I would of course welcome an investigation and ensure there is full cooperation in any investigation but that is entirely a decision for the Auditor General.
“If anyone believes they have any evidence this tender was not compliant with the requirements they should refer their concerns to the Auditor General.”