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On 17 June 2024 the Minister for Finance, Senator Katy Gallagher, announced updates to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules (CPRs), and the introduction of the Commonwealth Supplier Code of Conduct (Code). Both the CPRs and the Code came into effect on 1 July 2024. Information on the Code is available on the Finance website, and the Responding to an Approach to Market and If you are awarded a contract sections of the Selling to Government website. Further information on the changes to the CPRs is also available on the Finance website.

This section outlines some frequently asked questions around panel arrangements, and ‘standing offers’, in Australian Government procurement processes. It is intended to complement the information available under:

What is a standing offer (and what is a panel)?

A ’standing offer’ is an arrangement with an Australian Government organisation (or group of Australian Government organisations) that sets out the terms and conditions under which a supplier agrees to provide a range of goods or services for a specified period.

Potential suppliers submit a response to an approach to market (ATM) and indicate their willingness and ability to supply the goods or services at a particular rate and / or cost. Suppliers that demonstrate value for money in their response are invited to enter into a ‘deed of standing offer’ with the Australian Government organisation.

Where there are multiple suppliers appointed under a standing offer arrangement, it is commonly called a ‘panel’. Generally, the ‘deed of standing offer’ will be the same for each supplier on any given panel.

Once a panel has been established, the Australian Government organisation(s) can seek quotes to obtain goods or services covered by that panel. If your business delivers products or services covered by a panel, you may wish to consider applying to join that to panel.

When procuring from a panel or standing offer arrangement, the Australian Government organisation should, where possible, approach multiple businesses that are appointed to that standing offer to respond to these quote requests, and select the supplier whose response represents the best value for money.

A panel is usually established for at least three years, and may contain options to extend the arrangement. Additional suppliers can only be added to a panel if it is established as a ‘refreshable arrangement’.

How can my business get on a panel?

New panels are normally established by an open tender ATM. Open tender ATMs are advertised on AusTender and are open for anyone to apply.

If your response to the ATM is considered to represent value for money, your business may be invited to enter into a deed of standing offer, and be appointed to the panel.

Existing panels may include new suppliers if they were established as a ‘refreshable arrangement’. You should contact the relevant panel manager to see if the panel is refreshable. Refreshable panels will also advertise an ATM for potential suppliers to respond to.

You will find more information about how to respond to an ATM in the section Getting selected to supply to government.

What are ‘Whole of Australian Government’ panels?

Whole of Australian Government Arrangements are arrangements that are set up for Australian Government organisations to use when procuring certain goods or services, and generally result in overarching contracts or standing offer arrangements with one or multiple suppliers.

These arrangements are established either via coordinated or cooperative procurements and are intended to ensure more efficient processes to deliver better prices, service, and quality for the Australian Government. Coordinated procurement arrangements also offer increased transparency, standard terms and conditions and improved contract management that benefits both the Australian Government and suppliers.

Coordinated procurement arrangements are established for goods and services commonly used by the Australian Government, such as:

  • Advertising
  • Certain ICT hardware, software and cloud / hosting arrangements
  • Legal services
  • Property services
  • Travel and accommodation services
  • Stationery and office supplies.

Where established, coordinated procurement arrangements are mandatory for non-corporate Commonwealth entities to use. Whether or not other entities can opt into these arrangements is dependent on each specific arrangement.

Cooperative arrangements are optional to use and occur where multiple entities agree to purchase similar goods or services cooperatively.

More information on these arrangements for a business audience is available on the Department of Finance website on Whole of Australian Government Procurement.

Various Australian Government organisations administer these Whole of Australian Government arrangements, as summarised on the Department of Finance’s website.

Arrangements for legal services are administered by the Attorney General’s Department. All other non-ICT coordinated arrangements are administered by the Department of Finance.

Arrangements relating to ICT are administered by the Digital Transformation Agency. The Digital Transformation Agency administers a variety of ICT-related panel arrangements, including both mandatory and non-mandatory panel arrangements. Further information on these arrangements is available on BuyICT.gov.au.

If my business is not on a Whole-of-Australian Government panel, does that mean Australian Government organisations cannot approach my business to purchase goods and services covered by the panel? 

In general, most Australian Government buyers are required to use Whole-of-Australian Government coordinated procurement arrangements where they have been established. However, there may be some exceptions, which are dependent on the specific arrangement.

Whole-of-Australian Government coordinated procurements are mandatory for non‑corporate Commonwealth entities to use. This means that these organisations are unable to approach suppliers that are not part of the relevant arrangement to purchase goods and services covered by that arrangement. However, whether or not other Australian Government organisations can opt into these arrangements is dependent on each specific arrangement.

This may mean that certain Australian Government organisations (specifically corporate Commonwealth entities) may still be able to approach suppliers to purchase goods and services outside of Whole-of-Australian Government coordinated procurements.

Certain Whole-of-Australian Government coordinated procurements also have flexibility provisions, which enable Australian Government organisations to purchase a proportion of goods or services covered by the arrangement from suppliers that are not part of the relevant arrangement. These flexibility allowances are intended to provide relevant Australian Government organisations with additional flexibility to meet specific business needs, and provides opportunities for new market entrants, Indigenous businesses and other small to medium enterprises to engage with government organisations, develop relationships and gain experience in working with government.

For example:

  • The Management Advisory Services Panel includes a Flexibility Framework, which allows Australian Government organisations to purchase up to five per cent of their annual total expenditure (or a minimum allowance of $50,000 whichever is greatest) on Management Advisory Services covered by the panel from service providers not on the panel. In addition, five per cent of organisations' spending per financial year on services through the MAS Panel can be sourced directly from Indigenous businesses who are not on those panels through an additional Flexibility Allowance, further enhancing the opportunities for Indigenous businesses. 
  • The People Panel also includes a Flexibility Framework, which allows Australian Government organisations to purchase up to five per cent of their annual total expenditure on services covered by the panel from suppliers not on the panel. In addition, five per cent of organisations' spending on services through the People Panel can be sourced directly from Indigenous businesses who are not on the panel through an additional Flexibility Allowance, further enhancing the opportunities for Indigenous businesses.
  • The Legal Services Panel includes provisions enabling relevant Australian Government organisations to purchase up to 10 per cent of the value of their annual external legal services outside of the panel.

This means that in some circumstances, Australian Government organisations may still be able to purchase a proportion of goods and services from suppliers that are not part of the relevant Whole-of-Australian Government arrangement.

Regardless of these flexibility provisions, if you are operating in these sectors, you may still wish to consider responding to any ATMs to refresh arrangements to potentially access opportunities available through these panels.

Should my business respond to an ATM to establish (or refresh) a panel? 

Being appointed to a panel is not a guarantee the Australian Government will actually buy anything from your business or indeed any other businesses appointed to the panel. It is important that you conduct your own cost-benefit analysis before responding to a panel ATM and include in your considerations: the cost of responding to the ATM; being on the panel for a number of years; and the cost of quoting and remaining job-ready for the duration.

If your business considers it appropriate, an alternative option may be to contact suppliers on the panel and ask whether subcontracting opportunities are available.

How are contracts managed under a panel arrangement?

When you join a panel arrangement, you will enter into a ‘deed of standing offer’ or ‘head agreement’ with the relevant Australian Government organisation. This is a preliminary arrangement, and determines where and how Australian Government buyers can approach you for work under this standing offer.

When you win work after responding to an approach to market through a standing offer, you will need to agree to an ‘order’, often referred to as a ‘work order’.

The work order (or other similar document) is the contract document and will contain details of the goods or services that your business has contracted to provide, such as the price, the delivery details, and administrative information. While the contract document will have authority, it must be read together with the terms of the original deed of standing offer, which typically outlines the general terms and conditions under which the work order has been agreed.