Robert insisted he did nothing wrong and argued the project was decided almost 12 months before he became minister in May 2019 and was in contract negotiation when he became responsible for Services Australia.
“I had zero involvement with this procurement and any other procurements,” he said.
“I look forward to the report of whatever process the minister seeks to put in to ensure transparency and accountability.”
He confirmed he emailed Services Australia on Thursday morning to establish the probity of the contracts.
Robert, who was minister for government services from May 2019 to March 2021, told this masthead he had not helped companies such as Infosys win government contracts, did not have a conflict of interest because of his friendship with Milo and had not breached the ministerial code of conduct that is meant to prevent conflicts of interests.
Shorten told parliament last week he wanted Services Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency to look into the affair, but he expanded this plan on Thursday by saying an “eminent Australian” would do the review rather than the agencies themselves.
While the new arrangement means the agencies will not review themselves, it will not have the power of a judicial inquiry or the National Anti-Corruption Commission to call witnesses and uncover documents.
Shorten told parliament on Thursday the “wheels had started to come off the project” after the contracts were awarded to Infosys when Robert was the minister.
Shorten revealed the $274 million estimate and said other companies – including one that lost the initial contract to Infosys – had been called in to fix the problems.
The technical problems with the project, called the Entitlement Calculation Engine because it was meant to replace systems that process income support payments for six million Australians, meant Services Australia scaled back the work with Infosys while it was still being developed and paid the company more than $100 million but not the full $274 million.
Robert was subject as minister to a code of conduct that carried the ultimate sanction of removing him from office if he failed to disclose a conflict of interest, such as using a minister’s position to promote a friend’s business.
Milo last week denied that Robert had provided Synergy 360 with advice and, after acknowledging the pair’s friendship, refused to answer questions and hung up the phone.
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