Public service outsourcing in the spotlight as government tightens the reins

By Matthew Elmas

Thursday October 8, 2020

outsourcing
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie. (AAP).

The Australian government must invest in capability across the public service rather than overly outsourcing roles to for-profit private companies, independent MP Andrew Wilkie says.

In post-budget comments made in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Wilkie said the use of outsourced staff across the APS had become too widespread and was not transparent enough.

“It is the Public Service, with its developed processes, corporate knowledge and culture, that enables good governance, accountability and high-quality service provision and can always be counted on to put the public interest first,” Wilkie said.

“So imagine the community’s dismay that the privatisation of the Australian Public Service is continuing at a staggering rate.”

Referencing media reports, Wilkie argued too many roles are being outsourced across the APS, noting the Attorney General’s department spent $13.4 million on labour hire contractors last financial year.

While the 2020-21 federal budget committed greater resources for expanding the number of roles across the public service, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann warned this investment would be temporary.

The government is, however, creating a whole-of-government procurement review panel for consultancy services, which will cast its eye over outsourcing across the APS in a bid to improve transparency.

To be run out of the Department of Finance, the panel will be mandatory for non-corporate Commonwealth agencies, with the hope that it will consolidate a range of outsourcing review functions within individual departments.

“When temporary contractors and consultants are used judiciously, the APS can avoid the ongoing costs that result from recruiting additional permanent public servants,” Cormann said in his public service budget statement on Tuesday.

“When temporary contractors and consultants are used judiciously, the APS can avoid the ongoing costs that result from recruiting additional permanent public servants. Wherever possible outside experts are asked to transfer skills and knowledge as part of their project work for government,” he said.

The new panel is slated to commence operation from July 1, 2021 and will accompany new rules requiring departments to report on total spending on contracts and consultant work.

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