The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that last week it began legal proceedings against ARM Architecture, claiming the practice alleged to have rigged bids for a project at Charles Darwin University’s Darwin campus.

The Commission says it believes ARM and its former Managing Director Anthony Allen emailed eight rival architecture firms telling them not to bid for the second tender phase of the university’s new Education and Community Precinct. ARM was awarded the construct for the first phase of the project in 2019.

The ACCC also alleges that the emails sent by Allen effectively rigged the bid for the precinct’s second phase. Charles Darwin University excluded ARM Architecture from the competition for the second phase once it learned of the emails and ARM’s alleged conduct.

“Bid rigging for tenders, whether the tenders take place in the public or private sector, is against the law,” says ACCC Chair, Gina Cass-Gottleib. 

“This type of cartel conduct increases the costs of tenders for businesses or taxpayers, and has a chilling effect on competition. The ACCC will take appropriate enforcement action against this type of conduct, including potential civil or criminal cartel proceedings.”

“Professional services firms, including architects, should note that Australia’s cartel laws apply to their businesses as they do in other sectors. Firms competing in these markets must compete fairly and ensure they do not engage in anti-competitive behaviour, including cartel conduct.

“Public sector procurement is a multi-billion-dollar sector. It makes a vital contribution to the Australian economy and the welfare of Australians, who have the right to expect competitive bidding for these projects, resulting in value for money.”

The Commission has alerted public sector agencies to potential bid rigging, and created an outreach program which engages with public sector procurement officials in regards to foul play within procurement processes. A new cartel screening tool has also been developed, which analyses data to identify potential breaches of conduct.

“We are continuing to engage with public sector procurement officials at the local, state and federal levels to increase their awareness of potential anti-competitive conduct in public sector contracting, to enable early detection of this conduct,” Cass-Gottlieb says.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties and costs in its case against ARM, as well as orders for compliance training.

The case will be listed before the Federal Court at a date to be set.


Image: Charles Sturt University