5 June 2024

Questions about Shorten's $300,000 a year speechwriter must be asked of more than just public servants

| Chris Johnson
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Bill Shorten

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten has some questions to answer about an externally contracted, high-priced speechwriter. Photo: File.

Does anyone enjoy appearing before Senate Estimates?

Perhaps some do, but that can’t be said of Services Australia executives giving evidence to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee on Monday (3 June).

One in particular had an awful time: deputy chief executive officer for strategy and performance, Susie Smith.

There was a gang-up.

Liberal senators Linda Reynolds and Maria Kovacic were unforgiving as they fired question after question at Ms Smith over the appointment of a speechwriter.

Not any ordinary appointment, it must be noted.

This speechwriter, Julianne Stewart, was awarded a contract that amounts to more than $620,000 over two years.

Julianne Stewart speechwrite at Services Australia

Julianne Stewart was contracted as a speechwriter to Bill Shorten’s office. Photo: LinkedIn.

That extraordinary figure came about because, as Ms Smith said before the lunch break, it all came down to “a question of choice”.

The “choice” was made to go outside of the agency and beyond the realms of the entire Australian Public Service.

An external contractor was engaged to a job at easily more than double the cost “the best of the best” speechwriters inside the agency are paid – they’re on about $140,000 a year.

And here’s the rub: the speechwriter was contracted to Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and works primarily from his office.

READ ALSO Services Australia’s speechwriter appointment for Shorten under the Senate microscope

Before the lunch break, Ms Smith admitted under scrutiny that the agency had sufficient capacity to fill the role internally.

Reynolds and Kovacic expressed outrage, particularly considering the minister already has speechwriters.

But after lunch and some desperate scrambling back at the office, Ms Smith “corrected” her statement to note that, in fact, the agency didn’t have capacity at the time the contractor was employed.

Senior speechwriters at Services Australia had left the organisation and, besides, Ms Stewart was engaged to do more than just write speeches for Shorten.

She writes for Services Australia as well, and she is mentoring and training internal communications officers.

On top of that, Smith said, there was an open recruitment process to fill the position, but it didn’t unearth a candidate with the requisite technical skills.

This was a red rag to a bull for the Liberal senators, who demanded to know why Services Australia, why the APS, and why the minister could not find anyone internally to do the job – and for less.

Reynolds and Kovacic, who were intermittently joined by Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, went full flight into attack mode.

Smith, who no doubt got a bollocking during the break from her bosses (maybe even the minister’s office) over her morning’s answers, was now getting a beating from a Senate tag team of hungry wolves.

The senators appeared to be somewhat bullying. It was definitely badgering.

The Services Australia deputy CEO was visibly not at all happy and internally distressed, but she maintained composure and did a decent job of answering those questions she could while deflecting the ones she couldn’t (or didn’t want to) answer to the “take it on notice” pile.

It amounted to a long list of questions on notice.

The thing is, the questions asked by the senators were all valid.

READ ALSO More public servants found to have breached APS code of conduct during Robodebt

How did someone get such a generous contract when Labor is banging on relentlessly about slashing the spend on external contractors, stopping the waste and employing from within the service?

And to be assigned to the minister’s office?

It’s pretty outrageous.

But here’s the other thing – as much as it was Ms Smith in the firing line yesterday, those questions were actually for Mr Shorten.

The minister has some explaining to do.

The Opposition likely knows more about this appointment than has yet been revealed.

The senators needed to get it out there in order for further scrutiny to follow.

Shadow assistant minister for government waste reduction James Stevens was out straight away, issuing a press release under the heading “The Bill no Australian could afford”, noting that Stewart’s speeches for Shorten have cost the taxpayer about $22,000 a pop.

The minister can now expect a few questions coming directly at him.

One more thing: while Ms Smith batted off the relentless questions over quite a lengthy period, her more senior male colleagues seated next to her did very little to help.

New CEO David Hazlehurst at least had one feeble attempt at relieving his deputy for a few moments, but Department of Social Services Secretary Ray Griggs was useless, and it’s not certain if the token government minister in the room, Don Farrell, was even awake.

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GrumpyGrandpa4:27 pm 05 Jun 24

I’ve always written my own speeches.

HiddenDragon7:37 pm 04 Jun 24

“Smith, who no doubt got a bollocking during the break from her bosses (read the minister’s office) over her morning’s answers…”

Two weeks ago, we had the breathlessly exciting news that ministers, and their offices, will no longer be able to influence employment decisions made under the Public Service Act –


Anyone who has the slightest clue about how this town really works knows that the amendments will make no difference, and life will go on as it always has – but if the amendments had real meaning, Ms Smith should have been free to tell the minister’s office (in the nicest possible way) where to go and what to do when they got there and likewise free to give straightforward answers in Senate Estimates.

In a world where officials were able to speak more freely without concerns about the potential impact on their future employment and career trajectory the public would be better served and less of the taxes forcibly extracted from their pockets would be wasted by the passing parade of twerps on the political stage.

So Linda Reynolds was outraged about a staffing issue. Really?

No wonder this bloke has a speechwriter. Remember this:

A cost-to-cost comparison is not apples to apples. The APS member has hidden training, accommodation and administration costs. In addition, the contractor cost reflects years of training (assuming that a proper value-for-money engagement occurred), so the training costs reflecting those years of experience for the APS member should also be factored in (this is not a one-for-one comparison either). Another key factor is in APS core focus factor – with all the admin and other distractions that comes with being an APS member (assuming that the APS member is competent, trained and efficient at their job) I could be generous and say they are 75% effective. I can assume that a generic APS person spends about 50% of their time on their core role. Some of these contracted roles do really turn out to be better value for money rather than trying to maintain a core of competent APS members.

Better value for money? Than what DJA? $25,000 per speech. What on earth does an NDIS Minister need a speech writer for? Does this failed ALP leader still have leadership ambitions? Is he sitting in his office practising his take over speech from Albo? Where’s the speeches that cost $25,000 each? When did he deliver them? Who did he deliver them too? What brilliant alliteration costs $25,000 a spin? These are serious questions DJA. And what has Shorten said about it all? Well nothing. He certainly hasn’t said he will even put an end to it. This is typical ALP DJA. You know it, others in the Canberra bubble know it. This is NOT defendable and you know that too.

I chuckle to myself when reading Rob’s strawman response. I did not address Shorten’s needs – I was merely pointing out how raw $$$ are not a good argument for the value of either APS or contractors. I didn’t even include elements such as GST and PRT – things that APS members don’t often worry about.

Keyboard Warrior3:20 pm 04 Jun 24

They all jibber jabber and avoid actually saying anything at all, surely they don’t need a writer for this waffle.

And here we are being told by Katie Gallagher that this gumment is going to reduce the use of external contractors, but hey presto here’s another despite the fact they have a huge communications area.

Just another utter and incompetent waste of our money. The country is going down the sh*tter big time.

How many speeches does the man make in a year? AI might be cheaper?!

Work experience school kid even cheaper

So the responsible ALP Minister for preventing waste in the NDIS spends over 300k a year for speeches. So far she has produced around two dozen speeches for dear old Backflip Shorten over two years. That works out to be $25,000 per speech. Must be words of absolute brilliance but funny no Australian can remember any of them? One more instance of how the ALP spend taxpayers money badly.

Capital Retro3:06 pm 04 Jun 24

The only one of Shorten’s speeches I can remember was the blubbering one he made about how necessary it was to introduce the (unfunded) NDIS he made on Q&A many years ago.

My immediate thoughts were that this would be the “Mother of all scams”. I wasn’t wrong.

Rudd/ Gillard/ Rudd left the minefield of the NDIS majority unfunded for the LNP when they got booted. They also left it with no clear guidelines on what was NDIS and what was disabilities allowances. Since then expenditure for it has exploded and been infiltrated from end to end with various snake oil salesmen and other rorters. Typical of the ALP. A thought bubble turned into a policy, into a department, into a horrible mess.

Writing crappy, inane speeches appears more lucrative than investing in Bitcoin

Shorten needs to take responsibility for this obscene waste of taxpayer’s money.

Oh boy are the usual Labor spruiking stooges avoiding this onevlike the plague. LOL

Yep, where’s Justsaying? Come on mate spin this one. That will be the proverbial backflip with two and a half twists. Dieing to hear from you matey….come on!

Oh dear – usual blithering. I’ve just been debating you over “independents” yet I’m a “Labor spruiking stooge”

You are seriously delusionally partisan.

Pot, kettle black Justsaying. Debating? You mean spruiking the GetUp idiocy don’t you? Note absolutely NO response to dear old Backflips diabolic waste of taxpayers money. $25,000 per speech Justsaying. Still waiting for the zingers mate….he he!

Oh man, my sides. JS accusing somebody else of being partisan. The guy who can’t help but screech about the LNP even when nobody mentions a political party.

…. crickets ….

@Justsaying….crickets? Yep, undefendable isn’t it? Can’t spin that one can you? Not even your fellow GetUp stooges went near that. You’re not doing too well this week are you? Lost the nuclear power one as well. Ah well hopefully the week turns around for you. We all like a good chuckke when you comment.

“Lost the nuclear power one as well”
LMAO. Hopefully I can jump in before chewy14, who also savaged you on that one.

As usual Ken, spot on mate.

With what???? Finlands power pricing has dropped 75% since OLK3 came on line. Gee, if me stating facts says you win ……..he he! Only in your stultified mind mate, no one else.

Finland power costs decreased 75% since OLK3 reactor came on-line. So stating that fact in your mind says I lose does it? When the original article questioned the cost of nuclear power being too expensive amongother spurious arguments. Don’t hear you refuting that FACT? Why could that possibly be JS? Yep, I lost alright but only in your mind, nowhere else.

“When the original article questioned the cost of nuclear power being too expensive amongother spurious arguments.”
No, Rob – your capacity for not be able to comprehend is becoming legend. The original article questioned the cost of building a nuclear power plant. Nevertheless, let’s look at your falsehoods about the latest Finland nuclear plant:
1. “it is started 8 years ago”. Wrong. Construction started in August 2005 and it came online in March 2022 … that’s 17 years, Rob.
2. “cost between 10 and 11 bilion Aus” Wrong. It cost around 11 billion euros – which at today’s exchange rate is A$18 billion
3. “I wasn’t aware Finland had nuclear power going back to 1977” Eventually you conceded you also got “That’s also from a start of having NO homegrown nuclear industry” wrong.
Three strikes, Rob – and unless you are playing 10-pin bowls that’s a loss by any measure.

Oh and as for the “power costs decreased 75% since OLK3 reactor came on-line”? I didn’t deny it but I, and others, have pointed out that was due to a number of factors – not only OLK3. If nuclear was the answer, why is Finland now looking to have wind power as its primary source of power by 2027.

So, Rob, unless you can actually come up with “FACTS” to support the falsehoods I and (again) others have exposed, I suggest you just slink away on this one and let it ride.

Rob’s delusion is heading down to CR levels.

Even when provided with direct evidence of his complete and utter wrongness, he continually bleats the same repeated and failed arguments.

I actually think he could be a left wing plant so bad is he making the partisan right wingers look.

Capital Retro12:12 pm 05 Jun 24

I’ve got your back, Rob.

Wait until chewy sees the pics of 2,000 new Teslas that no one wants in Melbourne. His head will explode.

Why would my head explode over that CR, Seems pretty irrelevant to anyone interested in the overall market and figures which I’ve provided you numerous times.

Although irrelevancy is a strong point for you so it’s understandable you think a picture provides some major insight.

“Year-to-date, there have been 31,662 BEVs sold in Australia for the first four months of 2024 compared to 23,926 the same time last year.”

Industry in crisis according to some, bahahahaha.


Ha ha Chewy14!
The Liberals are doing a good enough job as it is making themselves unelectable!


Clearly since the Hilux and Ranger alone outsold all EVs combined last year, they are more popular and we should be heavily subsidising them like we do with EVs.

Race to the bottom competing with the local ALP/Greens Jack, with 20+ years of failure on their record.

Ken M,
they are heavily subsidised, which is part of the problem.

Although not sure why you think something being popular means it should be subsidised, very strange argument indeed.

They are not heavily subsidised. At all. In fact, they all still attract duties and some even the luxury car tax, to protect an industry that no longer exist here.

My premise is no more strange than your “The EV industry isn’t struggling because they sold marginally more cars here than last year. Never mind the huge population increase”.

Ken M,
Wait, you define a near
30% increase this year so far as “marginally more”? Particularly as it’s a continued trend for many years and matches similar trends across the globe.

Manufacturers competing against each other and lower prices is a good thing for consumers.

Also your “Huge population increase” is ~2%. Do you often mix up adjectives?

So yes, your premise is extraordinarily strange in comparison. Why would we further subsidise vehicles because they are popular? Particularly when they are the exact vehicles government policy wants to reduce due to their high CO2 emissions?

Around 2% is several hundred thousand adults. Yes, ithat’s a huge increase.

And I don’t care what the government wants. The government are supposed to serve the will of the people, not dictate their own wants. What the people want is clearly more Ford Rangers, so that’s where the subsidy should go. Pretty straight forward.

“The government are supposed to serve the will of the people, not dictate their own wants”

The most recent Lowy poll:
57% of poll respondents said “Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”

A further 30% said: “The problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost”

And only 12% said: “Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs”

Yes, it’s pretty clear what the people want.

Yes, more Ford Rangers is what they want. We have actual sales figures to prove that.

Your ‘evidence’ against it is one of these polls, which are worth what you paid for them and are wrong time and time again. You know it is dishonest to use them to prove any point. That’s aside from the fact that poll has nothing to do with EVs.

😂, so you want to rely on a tiny amount of yearly car sales (60000 Ford Rangers in 2023) as what the “people want”, yet deny representative polls along with the Federal election results where the elected government’s policies included further controls on emissions and vehicle pollution. Along with other parties like the Greens whose policies are even more extreme. Lol.

Also funny that you think the poll is somehow biased when the same poll was being used here yesterday to promote Nuclear power.

And why would the poll be about EVs, we were talking about your belief that the government should subsidise things that are popular.

McDonalds has over 1000 locations in Australia making them very popular, maybe Big Macs should be subsidised too.

As a woman it is concerning when the robust questioning of a woman in a leadership position is depicted as ‘bullying’. I watched the full video of this exchange and the questions being asked and the way in which they were asked befit the seriousness of the issue. When you are in a well paid, leadership role – whether make or female – you must be prepared to perform in intense situations. The fact that a speech writer was employed for over $600,000 for two years when there reportedly 200 people in the Communications team is a scandal. Answers need to be forthcoming.

Why do you assume she needed the help of her male colleagues? Why does it matter that they were men?

Probably could have done without that nonsense.

The woman in question was a previous speech writer for that bastion of fairness and light Alan Joyce the long gone chair of Qantas. When he announced he was going I was on flight going to Sydney and the aircrew clapped and one did a little jig in the isle. That’s how popular he was away from his leftist bubble.

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