Senator blasts APS outsourcing as an industry of ‘sleazy Canberra deals’

Ian Bushnell 26 November 2021 58
NSW Senator Tim Ayres

NSW Senator Tim Ayres says Australian Public Service outsourcing is an unaccountable industry of opaque contracts, rent seekers and shadow workforces. Photo: Facebook.

The outsourcing of Australian Public Service (APS) work, including the use of consultants, has been described as an industry full of “sleazy Canberra deals”.

The Labor chair of the committee that inquired into APS capability told the Senate on Thursday, 25 November, when tabling its report, that it was an unaccountable industry of opaque contracts, rent seekers and shadow workforces.

Senator Tim Ayres said outsourcing reaps billions but “delivers an inferior service for taxpayers and undermines public sector capability”.

He said the increasing reliance on labour hire and consultancies is based on Coalition hostility to public servants and the public service.

“It’s an industry that politicises the very institutions that underpin our democratic system,” said Senator Ayres.

He attacked the government’s average staffing level (ASL) cap, which the report found ties the hands of agency heads and encourages the use of labour hire.

“Agency heads are committed to the public service, but infantilised by the government’s ASL cap,” said Senator Ayres.

The report, ‘APS Inc: Undermining public sector capability and performance‘, recommends the abolition of the staffing cap, and for the main form of employment to be direct and permanent, with labour hire only used where it is not possible to engage non-ongoing staff directly.

“While the ASL cap may make the APS appear smaller, it does so at the expense of long-term capability and quality service delivery for Australian communities,” said the report.

READ ALSO: Call for working-from-home protections in APS agreements as report highlights flexibility pitfalls

It recommends more transparency around the use of labour hire, including more data being collected by agencies, the inclusion of contractors in the APS census, and agencies having to disclose how much they are spending on them.

The report recommends steps to limit the use of consultants, including a cap on the amount agencies can spend on external consultants; strict guidelines for their use; and the establishment of a consulting hub to provide in-house services.

A government consulting hub would also be responsible for monitoring and developing agency level policy capability, assessing and approving all agency requests, and rewriting specifications before contracts are put out for tender.

The report said the overuse of consultants has encouraged a creeping politicisation, and undermined the principle of frank and fearless advise.

The report also took aim at pay disparities between departments and agencies, recommending they move towards common core conditions and pay scales for APS-level and executive level employees, as per the Thodey Review.

It welcomed the establishment of the APS Academy to maintain and develop skills, but urged the Australian Public Service Commission to monitor and evaluate its operation and provide public, yearly updates on its achievements.

The committee acknowledged the “extraordinary commitment and resilience” shown by APS employees in dealing with the multiple crises of bushfires, floods and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Coalition members of the committee dissented from the main findings and dismissed many of the recommendations as politically motivated.

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58 Responses to Senator blasts APS outsourcing as an industry of ‘sleazy Canberra deals’
Ben Roberts Ben Roberts 11:08 am 02 Dec 21

Contracts are published on Austender. Hardly opaque.

Sarah Hassell Sarah Hassell 11:59 pm 30 Nov 21

I think there is a purpose for labour hire, however tge labour hire companies need to be audited and working as third parties not just acting inline with what they are told to do by APS. Labpur hire needs to put there own employees first, unfortunately it seems they commonly put the interests of keeping contracts with APS before this which sees alot of cases bought to the fwc where the labour hire companies pay out a measley amount for there total disregard of the fwc act. Data needs to be released as to which labour hire companies most commonly are involved in fwc matters. Its a conflict of interest. Every job in the ApS needs to open to non-ongoing and contractors otherwise your just seeing substandard aps employees rotating themselves and promoting themselves despite not having the correct skillset.

    Jim Boots Jim Boots 12:18 am 01 Dec 21

    If you read about the agile workforce it makes sense, however skill tags are not transferable between departments, some departments just don’t use them. The government needs to move from individual departments to the concept of the “machinery of the government”they also need to start using there internal processes of seeking suitable candidates from there internal processes and talent recognition. Workers should be able to move fluidly between departments. This what an agile workforce is, this should also include ongoing aps to have to work on different departments, not just sit in the same department for 20 years.. this is what leads to bad culture and lack of accountability.

    Jim Boots Jim Boots 12:32 am 01 Dec 21

    Consistency between departments will save a ridiculous amount of money.

    Jim Boots Jim Boots 1:08 am 01 Dec 21

    The staffing cap from my understanding was to simply stop a badly infested culture hiring techniques. What it has caused is people being subject to inappropriate behaviour. It is working, with such a large workforce it takes time.

Dani Hache Dani Hache 8:56 pm 30 Nov 21

Whilst this is 100% accurate, it cannot be fixed with the government failing to invest in an APS workforce.

These businesses are definately dodgy, and usually only pay their staff a small margin of what the government actually pays for the company.

If you want to stop this immoral BS, enforce mandatory caps on the profit companies can make off their contractors. Plenty of departments already do it, but not the big spending ones.

Bill Bloxham Bill Bloxham 8:01 pm 30 Nov 21

Been going on since Adam was a boy

David W Jones David W Jones 5:55 pm 30 Nov 21

Just look at the number of contractors that just keep getting extensions or renewals with no questions asked!

Garry Dodds Garry Dodds 5:27 pm 30 Nov 21

First Dole Office, so many public servants lining up for Coffees at 9am every day.Do Are they dedicated to work?

JS9 JS9 9:49 am 30 Nov 21

Outsourcing makes genuine sense when it is specialist skills that are not reasonable to maintain within a public service. When that was the key focus, it was okay.

But the way it is now used to get labour supply to deliver services that should be BAU for the public service, then all it does is help to fiddle the books, meet stupid targets around head counts and then allow for a whole range of other cronyism, favouritism, inside deals etc.

There is a far better way then where it is currently at.

liberalsocialist liberalsocialist 9:08 pm 29 Nov 21

This would be of the same ilk (politician) that demands immediate responses and replies for all their questions yesterday – and accurately – but has cut the APS to less than bare bones? I’m not, nor have been, in the APS but the stress and fatigue of jumping through hoops I see my friends and family undertake every day shows just how run down they are.
Politicians – and I must say the public – decry and victimise the APS yet they still want all the running of government to be done, answers and action and better equipment/ landscapes/ laws or whatever…. No, there’s no person available for the Cat Project in suburb XYZ. No, in the scheme of things your School doesn’t require xyz…

IF you want this, then you need more staff. It’s a fact. Then, they wouldn’t have to outsource so much. If times were better in the past, then stop using the APS numbers as a political punching bag every single election. You cannot gain the vote by doing so, then expect your APS can carry the same load.

Funny, this COVID thing… who did all that research and writing up of all the rules, the benefits, issued out the centrelink payments, coordinated the health system…? Don’t think it was your politicians. And those lines at Centrelink? Yep – you voted in people who put down the APS and get elected on cutting the workforce that you think must enact your policies.

APS numbers have been pared back, the public needs to accept it needs to grow again. Or put up with the delays, errors, contractors and the rest.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:42 pm 29 Nov 21

“He said the increasing reliance on labour hire and consultancies is based on Coalition hostility to public servants and the public service.”

If the voting patterns of Canberrans in federal and territory elections are indicative of the political attitudes and prejudices of APS employees, it would seem that the feeling is entirely mutual – further indicated by the seething anti-Coalition bile which so often appears in comments on Canberra-centric sites like this.

Federal Coalition governments could, in light of that, be forgiven for feeling that Canberra is enemy occupied territory – just as Labor (and Green) politicians are more likely to feel that they are among friends in this town, and be inclined to use inquiries such as this to look after their friends, while parading their virtue on this subject (being virtue which might tend to evaporate if they find themselves in government next year).

Tom Dale Tom Dale 4:46 pm 29 Nov 21

As the APS "permanent staffing" model is still essentially based on the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854 which re-organised the British Civil Service, it might be, you know, time to have a look at new ways of doing things.

Vladimir Svoboda Vladimir Svoboda 4:33 pm 29 Nov 21

CPSU has been advocating for greater homogenisation across pay bands for a decade and it was Labor policy at the last election. The problem with technical people leaving for contracting won't go away (oh they advocated that in the actual article too). Real brains trust here. Unsure how consulting politicises the APS, that's a new one.

Laurel Haskell Laurel Haskell 3:58 pm 29 Nov 21

People leave the PS and start up their own industry because they KNOW the System..Consultants, Employment Industries, Care Industries etc etc

Brian Tait Brian Tait 11:38 am 29 Nov 21

Krissy Mac lol this guy knows Canberra, but obviously not well enough to know it won’t change 🤣🤣🤣🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻

    Jacqui Brown Jacqui Brown 8:48 am 30 Nov 21

    Brian Tait hopefully a new government will stop this!

    Brian Tait Brian Tait 8:54 am 30 Nov 21

    Jacqui Brown it won’t. The model works fine. The moment this is changed people will complain the APS is too big and spending too much money on internal people. This goes round in circles

    Jacqui Brown Jacqui Brown 9:38 am 30 Nov 21

    Brian Tait after the last 8yrs I am sure that APS personnel and ultimately the public will be pleased that the former APS model is brought back so that the culture and expertise is an ongoing process and not ad hoc as often happens now !

Jimmy J LaRue Jimmy J LaRue 9:48 am 29 Nov 21

Well duh – The dumbest thing is the Commonwealth goes into competition with itself for resources and that’s why these consultants can command higher annual contract rates higher than a good proportion of the Secretaries of the departments.

Why do you think Canberra’s housing market is so inflated?! We pay mid level technical staff 120-150 an hour ex GST – 240-300K a year to do work that the Howard government killed when it took out the technical streams of pay for permanent APS staff.

The LNP have played their Murdoch media cronies for mugs – even Miranda Devine (blergh) wrote an article a coupleof years back bemoaning how boring old Canberra could have such a booming property market – Because no one cares when the LNP talk about slashing public servant numbers and capping them – Without bothering to examine how all the work they are promising gets delivered. Insanity.

Ben Stevens Ben Stevens 8:24 am 29 Nov 21

"the increasing reliance on labour hire and consultancies is based on Coalition hostility to public servants and the public service." Pretty much sums it up in a nutshell. With the average staffing level (ASL) cap, the government can look like its reducing spend on public service staff, when its actually significantly increasing it through labour hire companies and contractors who need to be hired to pick up the slack.

    Ben Roberts Ben Roberts 11:12 am 02 Dec 21

    Ben Stevens By the same token, let's not forget that efficiency dividends, recruitment freezes, and staffing caps have routinely been applied by both parties while in government.

Eliane Prideaux Eliane Prideaux 7:45 am 29 Nov 21

2 things: 1)staffing caps are suffocating. Orgs cannot hire more full time staff 2) technical staff need to manage people to progress their APS career. Many/most technical people (IT, science, etc) don't want to manage people and are wildly unsuited to it. Raise the caps and create proper technical promotion streams, not tied to management and you'd fix a lot of the contracting issues. But you'd probably have to burn down Defence and start from scratch. That place is cooked.

    Bill Williamson Bill Williamson 7:52 am 30 Nov 21

    Eliane Prideaux exactly. Lawyers and other professionals have dedicated high paying non management streams.

    Technical skills need the same.

    I personally love managing staff, and am technical, but I've never been able to promote shining stars that report to me because they couldn't manage staff.

    James Kanana James Kanana 11:51 am 06 Dec 21

    Ahh, but you must remember the move to contracting started under Keating when they made the top levels under contract to make the PS more responsive. The results seem to suggest more politically inclined yes men, and that over the years a culture of senior leaders who could not make it in the Private sector, and don't understand the "provide service" over "make a profit", who then hire their mates who also could not make it in the Private Sector.

Anna Vavrina Anna Vavrina 11:40 pm 28 Nov 21

Yep. Going on for years.

Lynette Clifton Lynette Clifton 9:09 pm 28 Nov 21

It's been going on for decades unabated. The amount of money wasted on contractors would have built the new subs.

    Garrie Irons Garrie Irons 10:37 pm 28 Nov 21

    Lynette Clifton nobody is planning for DMO to spring back to life full of apprentice boilermakers and nuclear engineers

Brian Woodbridge Brian Woodbridge 9:04 pm 28 Nov 21

Privatisation by stealth.

    John Haddon John Haddon 7:06 am 29 Nov 21

    Brian Woodbridge not really, most contractors are just ex-APS or ex Defence who have good skills in demand and want better pay, we are under direction of the APS staff, so there is no privatisation, APS still run the show, they just have competent staff to do the job, if the APS were to pay the same wages as private, many would be happy to accept fair remuneration for their skills, not many are willing to take a $20-60k pay cut from what a fulltime private gig would pay, noone is ever complaining about cleaners being outsourced, as it is a low paid job, but they are just like IT workers, hired to provide a service to the APS not to the public, where IT fails with contractors is on the lack of direction and clarity of APS management.

Lisa Ries Lisa Ries 8:46 pm 28 Nov 21

Love the advertising with this article….

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