Finance Department Hires Consultant to Advise on Hiring Consultants

A finance department signed off on a $32,000 contract with an external consultant to counsel them on how to interact with other external consultants who also provide advice to the Australian government.

People are ridiculing the irony behind these contracts and drawing comparisons with an episode of the satire Utopia. It serves as an example that demonstrates the government’s dependence on external expertise, even as the federal government attempts to shrink the expenses and opt for more work in-house.

Katy Gallagher, the Australian finance minister, announced that Simon Longstaff, the chief executive of the Ethics Centre, was hired to assist the department in how it should effectively deal with the consultancy firm PwC Australia and its spin-off company, Scyne.

Longstaff is an ethics adviser and his center examines workplace culture to deliver “capacity-building programs for good decision-making.”

Ethics Centre is a registered charity and would be paid $32,000 for its expert guidance. The hiring decision was met with some confusion. Greens Senator Barbara Pocock, who is part of a parliamentary inquiry examining the conduct of consultants, was baffled by the Australian government’s reliance on third parties to make crucial policy decisions.

“Just imagine a bureaucrat in the finance department saying ‘We need to hire a consultant to advise us on how to hire consultants.’ The scriptwriters from ABC’s Utopia series couldn’t have come up with a more laughable scenario,” Pocock said.

“I’ve got nothing against ethics expert Simon Longstaff but surely we have some measure of decision-making capacity left within the public service that would allow us to do this job in-house. Do we really have to look outside the public service for moral guidance on how to deal with consultants?”

Pocock found it problematic that PwC staff were being shifted to Scyne. Allegro Funds founded the new company, which acquired PwC’s government services division for $1.

“My department is engaging with PwC Australia and Scyne regarding its structure and future operations to ensure the government can have confidence in any future work it delivers,” Gallagher wrote in a letter to Pocock.

“To assist those assessments, Finance have engaged an ethics advisor, Dr Simon Longstaff AO, chief executive of the Ethics Centre. The government will take further action, as required, pending the findings and recommendations of the current parliamentary inquiries into the consulting industry.”

“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.

“Finance’s examination will form a view whether Scyne and PwC Australia have appropriate culture, governance, and accountability frameworks in place to contract with the commonwealth.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/03/australian-finance-department-hires-consultant-to-advise-on-hiring-consultants-in-move-compared-to-abcs-utopia