Polling: Majority want Greater Senate Scrutiny of Secret Contracts

New research reveals overwhelming public support (71%) for strengthening the Senate’s ability to scrutinise the outsourcing of core government functions to private consultancies.

The research was released as part of a wide-ranging speech calling for greater transparency and integrity in politics, delivered to the Senate by Ben Oquist, executive director of the Australia Institute, and Bill Browne, head of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program. The speech calls for a number of parliamentary reforms in the interest of increased government accountability, including the creation of a new Senate standing order requiring the disclosure of lucrative consultancy contracts.

Key Details:

  • Seven in 10 Australians (71%) agree that the Senate should use its powers to compel reports written for the Government by private consultancies public, only 12% disagree.
  • Federal Government spends over $1 billion every year on private consultancies (equivalent to 12,000 public sector jobs) & often does not release results publicly.[2]
  • A new Senate standing order to demand the production of contacts with private-sector providers would improve transparency.

“We need greater integrity and transparency in our politics and without a federal ICAC, it’s time the Senate flexed is oversight muscle.

“Lucrative and secretive taxpayer-funded contracts with private-sector consultancies are worth more than $1 billion per year. The Senate has a right to know about these contracts in the public interest.

“Our proposed new standing order would require tenders and contracts with consultancies to include information about the purpose and scope of the work and, secondly, require the government to table the final reports and written advice received from a consultancy.

“With such an order, the public would be able to see what research, advice and recommendations consultants are giving government, and check consultants’ reports for themselves to see if they make a convincing case for any actions the government ends up taking.

“Our polling shows overwhelming support for this measure. It also shows that if the Government of the day refuses to produce documents the Senate believes are in the public interest, the Senate should insist.”

If adopted, the new standing order over consultant contracts would be added to the existing list of 20 orders for documents, which include:

the Harradine motion requiring departments and agencies table a list of files, making freedom of information requests easier, the Murray motion requiring departments and agencies disclose high-value contracts they have entered, the motion requiring Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory to be published quarterly, in a timely manner, and monthly reporting of vaccination statistics.

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