Matters of Interest: Public Service

In Parliament, Matters of Interest, Speeches

Hansard:

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:48): I rise today to speak about the ongoing and unacceptable undermining of our Public Service and the buckets of money that are being poured into private-for-profit consultants by successive governments—governments of both sides. The outsourcing of ever-more essential government functions to private corporations has serious negative impacts on both the South Australian community and on the state of our democracy. People go into the Public Service because they want to contribute to its vital work, but they are finding it devastatingly underfunded. More and more work instead is being contracted out to the for-profit corporations, like the big four consultancy firms that profit happily from this systemic undermining of our Public Service.

What we have been seeing over the last few years is the corporatisation of basic functions of democracy, a shift from governing for the public good to government by for-profit corporations. The 2021-22 state budget stated that the government expected to spend $1 billion on consultancies and contractors—$1 billion! The majority of these funds, almost $500 million, were within the Department for Infrastructure and Transport alone: I note, mainly for public transport and road maintenance contracts. Imagine what we could do with $1 billion in the Public Service.

This kind of spending is not new. In the previous financial year the state government was spending more than $6.1 million a week on outside advice, specialised services and contract workers. In 2020, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet spent almost $1.2 million on consultants. Imagine if we invested in our public workforce so that they had the skills that governments and our community need. If we paid these people properly and attracted experts and people at the top of their fields into our public sector, surely that would be a better way forward.

Some of the jobs outsourced and amounts paid to consultants are absolutely eye watering. PwC consulting was handed $940,480 to review and redesign the local health networks. Infrastructure firm AECOM Australia was paid $294,817 to provide advice on how to transition Leigh Creek to a sustainable, open and self-sufficient town. KPMG received $185,200 for the preparation of design documentation for the Aboriginal Entrepreneur Hub. Consultancy firm Learning First received $207,000 to work with education directors and school leaders to develop—and I quote—a ‘school improvement planning process’.

Some of the common tasks you can see outsourced to consultants are things like putting together business cases or providing costings and options, analysis or strategic advice or reviewing processes or assessing programs. Surely these are common tasks that come up on a regular basis. So why are we funnelling public money into private companies to do this work when we could easily build these services into our public sector, who would be best placed to conduct these services and would not have to do them for a profit?

Contrary to what some governments might believe, privatising essential services does not actually save money, and it certainly does not produce better outcomes. Instead, it makes services less efficient and puts decision-making in the hands of for-profit corporations, yet successive governments have outsourced Australia’s essential public services, making them more expensive, lower quality and harder to oversee.

The outsourcing of jobs has seen real wages fall and employment conditions worsen, which has put downward pressure on wages and conditions in the private sector. We can end the over-reliance on privatisation and deliver a stronger and more capable Public Service at a lower cost to the public, and we should be investing in local skills and growing the capacity within our Public Service to provide advice on a regular basis, to conduct reviews and to have the skills that government regularly needs to call on available within the public sector, particularly in areas such as cybersecurity, IT and infrastructure.

The Greens firmly believe that the public sector is best placed to respond to the changing social, environmental and economic circumstances and to enhance our society’s capacity to pursue important goals such as justice, equity and sustainable environmental objectives, as well, of course, as our community services obligation.

We can do this better, and I hope in the Malinauskas government’s first budget we see them look at this as one of the solutions and ways forward and that we look at giving less to private consultancy firms and reinvest that money back into our public sector.