Revealed: Why tech project blew out to $22m

UNFOUNDED optimism and a lack of skills and experience at the state's debt collection agency have been blamed for a scrapped information and communications technology contract that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.

A critical report from the Auditor-General has revealed the bungled project, which was supposed to streamline debt recovery for the State Penalties Enforcement Registry, cost a massive $22.3 million.

The report revealed consultant's review had warned SPER as early as April 2017 to consider abandoning the contract, while a project assurance report in October 2016 also forecast "major risks".

It also suggested that "unfounded optimism" and inadequate skills and experience at SPER were to blame for the project's failure.

"Despite the warnings SPER received from many reviews, it was confident the project would succeed," Auditor-General Brendan Worrall wrote in his report.

"There was a culture within the Office of State Revenue of being overly optimistic that the issues would be worked out.

"This attitude was costly to the project outcome because it meant the project continued to incur costs over a two-year period that ultimately delivered no value to SPER given the contract termination.

"The program steering committee was highly reliant on the advice and information provided to it by consultants and contractors, because of the skills gaps it had."

According to the report, the SPER Reform Program cost $76.8 million, including $22.3 million for the terminated contract for the main vendor.

 

Treasurer Jackie Trad in Question Time this week. Picture: Glenn Hunt/AAP
Treasurer Jackie Trad in Question Time this week. Picture: Glenn Hunt/AAP

 

It also revealed that time and material costs to renegotiate the contract during a 10-month period in 2017 set taxpayers back $8.35 million, and led to an extra $10.3 million in fees and charges for the project.

In 2018, former under treasurer Jim Murphy - who is now Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's chief of staff - told a Budget Estimates hearing that the contract was "safe and sound in terms of the cost".

Treasurer Jackie Trad confirmed today that Treasury would accept all recommendations from the report.

She moved in May last year to terminate the contract.

"As I said at the time, this was and remains completely unacceptable," Ms Trad told State Parliament today.

"In fact, many of these recommendations to improve processes are already under way.

"For example, I can advise that in December 2019, a new payment portal for customers to pay and manage their debts online went live."

The ICT project had initially been ordered in an effort to give SPER more efficient ways to chase down debt and provide fine defaulters with better payment options.


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