Reining in consultancy spending

by Bill Browne

The government spends over a billion dollars a year on consulting firms.

Consultants are expensive, but more worrying is the shabby, secretive or compromised work that they produce, often done with “rubbery” data and “a preconceived answer in mind” or buried because it would make the government look bad. And that’s the reports we know about – the vast majority of consultants’ reports are never seen by the public.

The Labor Party campaigned on cuts to consultancy spending, and last year’s budget identified $3.6 billion in savings over four years by reducing spending on external labour (among other things). This year, some more details emerged, with $8 million for “projects to uplift capability across the Australian Public Service”, $3 million to boost First Nations employment in the APS, and $11 million to provide start-up funding for an in-house consulting service.

The in-house consulting service could provide government with the flexible, detailed, and creative work that consultants promise, but delivered by public servants who owe a duty to the Australian public and the Cabinet, and are accountable to Parliament and our freedom of information system. Let us hope $11 million is enough to get the service started, and the government follows through with its promise to trim the billions that go to consultants.

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