A Senate Economic Committee has slammed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over its handling of the Federal Government’s failed GroceryChoice website.
The Committee's report reveals that the initiative was “characterised by waste and mismanagement,” and that $2.7 million could have been saved if the government had “been more flexible and kept its eye on the ball”.
A schedule of payments appendix to the report reveals that the GroceryChoice website has cost the Australian taxpayer $7,693,753 to date.
The Committee has recommended that the ACCC investigate any potential breaches of the Trade Practices Act in relation to the role played by the Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) in negotiations with Choice, the independent consumer organisation which took over responsibility of the website from the ACCC following continued criticism of the site.
The report found "…that GroceryChoice was a shocking waste of taxpayers' money, clearly demonstrating the Government's apparent disregard for obtaining value for money".
Choice spokesperson, Christopher Zinn, said the organisation has been vindicated by the findings recommendations.
“The inquiry says the website wouldn’t work and we beg to differ on that and think it still could, but generally we think that the inquiry gives and accurate and detailed account of what happened,” Zinn said.
Zinn said Choice has received some money from the Government, but there is still some outstanding.
He said that everything wasn’t intended to be in place on day one, but over time Choice believe that would have changed.
“The amount it cost in dollars would only partially reflect the true effort that went into it,” Zinn said.
Choice had engaged services company, SMS Management and Technology, to help develop the site.
The Senate report made eight recommendations:
- The Commonwealth Auditor-General investigate the tender pr ocess under taken by the ACCC in relation to the data collection contract
- The ACCC take more care in the future to monitor and assess the performance of contractors that undertake data collection on its behalf
- The government reveal plans for an industry-operated grocery price data website.
- The government note the unfair manner in which its contractual arrangements with Choice were prematurely terminated by the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, Craig Emerson, without affording the organisation a right of reply, and ensure that such unprofessional and discourteous conduct does not occur again.
- The ACCC note that the operation of the GroceryChoice website was prejudicial and unfair to independent retailers.
- The ACCC apologise to Tasmanian Independent Retailer s for unfairly comparing small independent retailers to major chain supermarkets in its price surveys for the GroceryChoice website.
- The ACCC investigate any potential br eaches of the Trade Practices Act 1974 in relation to the role played by the ANRA in negotiations with Choice.
- The government learn from this episode of "waste and mismanagement and ensure that such inappropriate and careless spending does not occur again in the future".