The Federal Government handed almost $1 million in contracts to a controversial aged care executive without contacting any other potential suppliers.Key points:Gary Barnier left Opal Aged Care after bullying allegations against himMr Barnier rejects the allegations and an investigation made no findings against him Mr Barnier is now contracted to give advice on aged care to the Federal GovernmentThe Health Department earlier this year engaged Gary Barnier, who previously led Australia’s largest nursing home chain, Opal Aged Care.Mr Barnier resigned from Opal in 2017 after 7.30 highlighted Opal’s neglect of some residents and raised concerns about his personal behaviour towards customers and their families.The department — which oversees aged care in Australia — has now handed a company he owns and runs two major contracts to help prevent nursing home operators from financially collapsing.Before awarding the contracts, officials ran what is known as a limited tender process.They did not publicly advertise the upcoming project or allow other companies to bid for the work.The Federal Opposition interrogated Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and officials about the contracts at a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday.Mr Barnier has rejected any allegations of personal wrongdoing.The ABC can reveal the department did not even contact a single other person or company to check whether they could do the work.”The department already had a good understanding of the market capabilities available,” a department spokesman said in a statement.Instead, officials conducted what they describe as a “desktop analysis” before selecting Mr Barnier’s company, Cooperage Capital.”He has the appropriate skill set, and he has demonstrated the appropriate skill set,” department official Michael Lye told the Senate Estimates hearing this week. Mr Barnier led Opal Aged Care, which was previously known as Domain Principal Group, from early 2011 until late 2017.’A one-man company’Tender documents show the first deal with Cooperage Capital, worth $415,800, ran from early January to the end of September.The Health Department then awarded Cooperage Capital a second contract, worth $503,800, from October 2020 to June 2021. This was also done using a limited tender process.The ABC has confirmed Mr Barnier is the only person who has performed work for Cooperage Capital under each contract.”Cooperage Capital sounds like a well-established company with multiple partners and locations, a bit like KPMG or PwC,” Labor senator Kristina Keneally told the committee.”But it’s actually a one-man company ran out of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat.”The Australian National Audit Office has previously warned all government departments about the risks of running limited tenders, including the risk that agencies do not receive value for money.Complaints about careJune Johnston, pictured middle, with members of her family.(Supplied)In 2017, 7.30 revealed concerns about the quality of care residents received during Mr Barnier’s time running Opal.Families told of their loved ones not being fed or being provided enough incontinence pads.Several residents’ families also complained about encounters with Mr Barnier.Helen Hardy’s mother June Johnston was struck in 2013 by a carer at Opal’s facility in the Victorian town of Lakes Entrance.The worker was sacked over the incident, but Mrs Hardy says she wrote to Mr Barnier saying that more needed to be done. Helen Hardy says she documented unexplained bruises on her mother, June.(Supplied)”He rang me one evening, 20 past seven on a Friday night, and tore strips off me, intimidated [and] bullied me,” Mrs Hardy said last week. “[He] told me to keep my mouth shut.”And if I still had an issue with my mother being abused, I needed to see a psychiatrist [and that] he would help me with that: he would get help for me.”I find it difficult to imagine how a government could give this man a contract to write about aged care.”Mr Barnier would not speak to 7.30 for this story but addressed part of Mrs Hardy’s account in an interview three years ago.”It is very possible that either myself — although I don’t recall it at all — or other people in my organisation would have offered a resident’s family member, in the event that they expressed distress, to actually help get them some help,” he said.’Mr Barnier is deeply upset by the allegations’A spokeswoman for Mr Barnier said the various claims about his behaviour are “false allegations” which he “wholeheartedly” rejects.”Mr Barnier is deeply upset by the allegations made against him,” the spokeswoman said.”Investigations have found no wrongdoing by Mr Barnier.”Kristina Keneally questioned why Gary Barnier had been given contracts.(ABC News)During Senate Estimates, Senator Keneally asked Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck: “Do you have confidence in Mr Barnier?”Colbeck: “Senator, I have confidence in Mr Barnier’s financial capacity, which is the skill set that he has been employed to provide to the department. And that’s the role that he plays on the [Aged Care] Financing Authority, so his financial skills and capacity have been of value.” Keneally: “So as long as those are there, it doesn’t matter what else he’s gotten up to in aged care?”Colbeck: “I’m not seeking to pass comments or otherwise on those … allegations that you place against Mr Barnier.”Following the initial ABC reports in 2017, Opal Aged Care commissioned a consultancy firm to undertake a review of its operations.The company said the investigation made no findings about Mr Barnier, but it has refused to publicly release the full report.Mr Barnier has previously admitted to offering the son of a resident who died $10,000 after staff ignored doctors’ advice for the woman to be taken to hospital.”At the time it was my personal judgement that it was appropriate given the particular circumstances that he raised with me,” he said in 2017.’Devoted his career to improving aged care’Under the government contracts, Mr Barnier is working to identify aged care providers at risk of collapse and to help stop them from going broke.The spokeswoman for the high-profile industry figure said: “Over the past decade, Mr Barnier has devoted his career to improving aged care for residents and their families, and he remains committed to this cause. “The Department of Health engaged him based on his unique skills and experience in the aged care sector.” He has been a member of several commonwealth aged care advisory bodies, including as a paid member of the Aged Care Financing Authority. He was reappointed to that role last year and receives $429 each time the authority meets.
The Federal Government handed almost $1 million in contracts to a controversial aged care executive without contacting any other potential suppliers.