5 December 2022

Public Service Minister is stealing Canberra's Christmas

| Chris Johnson
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Katy Gallagher’s Public Sector portfolio is helping to meet the demands of her Finance portfolio. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Is Katy Gallagher the minister who stole Christmas?

For many public service contractors, the answer is clearly yes.

And the same goes for a lot of small business operators in Canberra – retailers, restaurants, cafes etc – relying on the festive spend from these very same people.

Contractors are being laid off in the hundreds and thousands right now right across the Australian Public Service.

And they’re being given their marching orders just before Christmas, with many to be out the door before the end-of-year shutdown.

As Region first reported last week, one thousand of them are leaving Services Australia; their projects are ending and their services are no longer required.

But while this might be the biggest and clearest example of the contracting cull having begun, Services Australia is not a Robinson Crusoe agency on this issue.

Contractors are being laid off across the service – every agency has had orders to review the reliance on contractors.

But the situation is a little more complex (and nasty) than that.

READ ALSO Services Australia lays off hundreds of contractors before Christmas

Government departments are terminating contracts and offering those same contractors permanent roles.

Basically, the message is: “If you want to work for this government, leave your consulting firm and come work for us directly – for less money in your pocket.”

As one contractor told Region: “They’re putting a gun to our heads.”

This is all at the insistence of the minister bent on saving money and reshaping the APS in the process.

Her Public Sector portfolio is helping to meet the demands of her Finance portfolio.

But forcing savings in this manner right before Christmas is helping nothing but the Albanese Government’s bottom line while hurting an awful lot of individuals, families and businesses.

READ ALSO APS rising leaders being told to ‘think and act more like consultancies’

Hospitality venues, normally raging this time of year, have already begun to feel the pinch.

One example: a very popular Kingston restaurant, usually teeming with patrons in the last weeks of a parliamentary sitting year, had one table of just two people for the entire lunchtime session last Thursday while desperately hoping bookings would be coming in for dinner that night.

There has been a sudden impact and it’s being repeated across the city.

Consulting and contracting firms who, like it or not, are part of the fabric of this public service town and have helped with the development of many government services, are now a big-time government target.

Many consultancies are now paying their bills late and the contractors they place are massively reining in their spending.

Yes, there needs to be a rebalance in the economy and in the APS workforce, but the minister hasn’t got the balance right.

Maybe David Pocock can help.

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I can’t see what the issue is.

Contractors are engaged on a short-term basis at a high hourly rate and as such receive higher rates than an ordinary employer would receive to do the same job.

I expect there are quite a few “pimping companies” who are now longer creaming a margin off the top, for supplying contracting staff to Government.

There are plenty of people elsewhere just having contracts cancelled or losing their jobs when companies fold. Contractors should thankful that they are being offered permanent roles by the Government.

This is just the beginning, wouldn’t expect anything less from an x Union hack with no real life experience.

Contractors are a waste of taxpayer money.

“As Region first reported last week, one thousand of them are leaving Services Australia; their projects are ending and their services are no longer required.”
Ummm where is the story here? As a former contractor (often in PS departments), I knew I was being engaged for a specific period of time to work on a specific project or program – that’s the whole idea of a fixed term contract. If the role is long term, then why wouldn’t a department engage a permanent or non-ongoing employee?
Where a current contractor is offered a permanent or non-ongoing role Uunless therir contract specifically prohibits for them from accepting such a role in a specifed time frame) then the contracting firm gets paid a “recruitment fee” – that’s always been the case.
It seems the author has a beef that contracting companies are not going to be able to skim the exhorbitant fees they usually do for providing run of the mill services, to a public service trying to show it’s staffing numbers are going down.
As for that restaurant’s lunchtime patronage. WTF has that got to do with contractors?

HiddenDragon7:27 pm 06 Dec 22

The timing of this does seem gratuitous, or at the very least callously indifferent, but what is happening here should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with how Canberra fared under the Hawke/Keating governments – supposedly the model for the Albanese government.

Under Hawke and Keating, there were tight controls on APS staff numbers, particularly at senior levels, with very limited scope for contractors and consultants, and the official policy of “wage restraint” meant that sub-CPI outcomes were not unusual – including across-the-board flat dollar increases (rather than a percentage increase) for mid and upper level staff, which resulted in compression across the pay scales. All of this was done to deal with difficult economic conditions and still find funds for increased Commonwealth support for areas including health, education, and child, aged and disability care.

The parallels with the present time are obvious – so the cull of contractors is probably just the first dose of sobering news for a Canberra which is still far more reliant on federal spending than it often likes to admit.

William Newby7:15 pm 06 Dec 22

Not the biggest fan of lil ms mansplainer but she’s doing a good job here, contractors are out of control, some charging up to $1,600/hour for basic work.
There are plenty of good jobs out there, no one on the contract circuit is going hungry or homeless.
Stolen Christmas, my ***.

Nice to see Katy doesn’t change, a few veterans of the ACT Public Service will recall her hanging her own public servants out to dry over a “whistle blower” who actually wasn’t.

Fortunately for the contractors who are being offered the “privilege” of joining the APS and doing the same work at vastly reduced rates, they are very much in demand and can and will move on.

How long can the government afford to have (as an example) their IT infrastructure managed by not enough staff and a lack of SME knowledge?

Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.

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