Contractors outnumber civil servants in Australia’s defence department

By on 23/02/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Dennis Richardson, Defence permanent secretary, Australia

Consultants and contractors now outnumber permanent staff in Australia’s Department of Defence, its exasperated chief revealed last week during a webinar with 2,000 public servants from the ministry’s Science and Technology Group.

Defence permanent secretary Dennis Richardson, who is expected to retire in the next few months, told officials that the department is using up to 18,000 contractors, consultants and other service providers. Deep cuts have left the department with just 17,200 civil service staff.

The number of public servants that the department may employ has been capped at 18,200, and Richardson said he expects the department will reach that cap soon as it hires more officials to deliver on government pledges to build more ships and submarines.

However, he warned business units within the department that they must start adhering to the budget cuts they have been assigned by central management, or he and other senior executives will be forced to step in.

Richardson, a former ambassador to the US who also previously headed the department of foreign affairs and trade, warned his staff that he doesn’t mind being disliked, and will take unpopular decisions if he has to. “You seek to manage things on the public service side, and then all of a sudden you see growth out here,” he said. Using an Australian slang term for a nasty or cruel person, Richardson added that “you get really annoyed by that and you end up having to be a mongrel.”

“Now I don’t like being a mongrel, but I have managed organisations for 20 years and if I’m given no choice, that is precisely what I’ll do,” he said. The defence chief added that he’s considering capping the amount of money the department can spend on consultants.

However, union Professionals Australia said that consultants and contractors are filling the gaps left by a dwindling Australian public service workforce, as reported by the Canberra Times.

Union official Dave Smith said: “How he can be surprised that contracting, either directly or through service providers, is going through the roof at the same time as he has put an artificial cap on the [Australian Public Service] workforce and the actual required work of defence is going up?”

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See also:

Australia’s government IT projects face scrutiny in new review

Australia and New Zealand School of Government names new CEO

Surprise resignation of Australia’s digital chief, Paul Shetler

Australia publishes first government transparency action plan

Australia’s solicitor general resigns over George Brandis row

Australia’s finance department secretary Jane Halton resigns


About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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