Contestability and consolidation: Finance head outlines agenda

Senators looked into the core of the Commonwealth on Tuesday. They heard there is more to contestability than outsourcing, hidden value in cutting back tiny agencies, and value in simply scoping out privatisation.

The Commonwealth’s new contestability regime is nearing the end of its pilot phase and will soon begin rolling out across the whole government, according to testimony in a wide-ranging Additional Estimates hearing on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the first two “functional and efficiency reviews” under the framework — looking at the departments of Health and Education, under the respective leadership of Ernst and Young partner Jim Birch and Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott — would be completed in time for this year’s budget process. The other elements of the framework, including portfolio stocktakes and contestability reviews, are also nearing full-scale rollout.

Jane Halton

Jane Halton

In response to questions from Labor Senator Joe Ludwig, Department of Finance secretary Jane Halton explained the pilots were not aimed at deciding whether to apply the contestability tests to the entire public service — that decision has already been made — but how best to do so. Her own department’s officials are among the “guinea pigs”, she said:

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