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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sarah Basford Canales and Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

Australia’s defence department clamps down on private consultants

Defence Minister Richard Marles and CDF General Angus Campbell at a press conference
Head of Defence, General Angus Campbell, is expected to save $154m in the move to curb private consultants as part of federal savings targets. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The Australian government is moving to curb the revolving door between the Department of Defence and private consultants amid increasing scrutiny of the practice.

Guardian Australia understands Defence has introduced a new moratorium on entering into contracts with personnel who have left within the past 12 months.

It comes after the department spent more than $1.3bn on temporary personnel and recruitment services over the 2022-23 financial year, government contract notices show.

But it is expected to slash at least $154m off its final bill this financial year, as it works to implement the federal government’s savings target.

The new ban applies to “above the line” contract arrangements, meaning roles that are able to be performed by an Australian public service employee or Australian defence force member.

The moratorium was spelt out in a joint directive issued by the secretary of the Department of Defence, Greg Moriarty, and the chief of ADF, Gen Angus Campbell.

The move, which is effective from 7 August, comes ahead of next week’s ABC Four Corners episode that is expected to include a focus on the use of contractors.

The moratorium is believed to have some exceptions, such as in “compassionate” circumstances or where it is deemed to be “for commercial necessity to meet Defence capability needs”.

It’s understood Defence’s plans will reduce external labour by 2,000 people by the end of 2024.

That comes after the 2023-2024 budget earmarked $632m in savings from cutting external labour, advertising, travel and legal expenses from Defence over four years – including $154m this financial year.

Defence is believed to be planning to achieve these savings by reducing reliance on external labour and re-investing in the public service workforce, among other measures.

The plans include converting 1,029 contractor or consultant roles to a public service role within Defence.

The Albanese government has promised to slash the public service’s reliance on outsourced work, with finance minister Katy Gallagher revealing earlier this year the former Coalition government spent more than $20.8bn on it in its final year.

Earlier this week, Guardian Australia revealed the minister’s department had entered into a $32,000 consultancy contract for advice on how it should engage with another external consultant.

A finance spokesperson said the consultant, ethics adviser Simon Longstaff, had “significant knowledge and expertise in the field of ethics”.

“Longstaff’s experience and expertise is supplementing the expertise that the commonwealth has in considering matters of this nature, including in relation to the appropriate action that may be taken,” the spokesperson said.

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