The Australian Greens welcome the opportunity to contribute additional comments to the committee report, and thank the witnesses and authors of submissions for their time and expertise.
Job security at our universities
With ever increasing corporatisation, extraordinary rates of insecure work, and the impacts of the pandemic, the Australian university sector is in crisis. After decades of funding cuts, the pandemic showed just how reliant on income from international students higher education has become. The Government's refusal to provide a COVID-19 support package or extend JobKeeper to universities resulted in them sacking staff en masse, with over 40 000 jobs lost nationwide in the span of 12 months.
We need a massive new investment of public funding for our universities, and to address the insecure work crisis. The Greens support recommendations contained in the report that work towards these aims and have the following additional comments.
Abolish piece rates
Wage theft has become systemic in universities. As the committee report rightly notes, piece rates are one of the primary facilitators of wage theft in universities. The Australian Greens believe that piece rates should be abolished and all staff, including casual staff, should be paid for all hours worked.
Immediate permanent employment targets linked to funding
Insecure work has become the dominant model of employment at universities, such as employing staff through casual and short-term contracts. Government should work with university staff and their unions to link funding to the achievement of targets that support reductions in insecure work at our universities.
Job security in our essential public services
Successive governments have outsourced our essential public services. APS Commission data shows a significant growth in non-ongoing contracts for employees under the Public Service Act 1999 over the past decade. Evidence to this inquiry has laid bare that outsourcing and contract work has resulted in more expensive, lower quality, and less transparent service delivery, a gutting of the capabilities within the public sector, and employees being paid less and having less job security and job satisfaction.
Efficiency dividends have actually reduced efficiency and in-house capabilities by increasing reliance on ad hoc external recruitment. Staffing caps have not reduced overall staffing expenses, but have eroded staff security and retention.
The 2021–22 budget allocation to increase staffing levels was a welcome, albeit late, recognition that years of cuts, privatisation and dodgy outsourcing deals have not worked. But the announced increases are not enough to undo a decade of ideologically driven cuts and outsourcing. Rebuilding staffing levels and strengthening job security within the public service will ensure Australia has higher quality services at a lower cost to the public and a better deal for workers. The Greens strongly support the recommendations in the interim report directed at that aim.
Losing skills and capacity
The CPSU told the inquiry that labour hire and consultants regularly undertake work that should be core public sector business. As outlined in the committee report, they believe this has eroded the skills base within the public service, compromised service delivery, undermined job security, and effectively 'abandoned the role as custodian of a career public service, and the institutions and norms which Australian democracy relies upon'. The final report of the independent review of the Australian Public Service made similar observations.
The Australia Institute report, Talk Isn't Cheap, estimates that the $1.1 billion spent by the Australian Government last year on consultancies could have provided secure employment for more 12 000 public servants and built the ongoing capacity of the public service to meet future challenges.
Yet the Government has continued to rely on labour hire and to outsource key advice roles to private consultants who do nothing for internal capacity‑building. Private consultants are often selected on the basis that they will align with government objectives, tell ministers what they want to hear or avoid rubbishing government policy for fear of missing out on future lucrative contracts. It is no coincidence that the consultancy firms making millions from government contracts are also significant political donors—EY, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG have donated $4.7 million over the past decade. An analysis by The Saturday Paper of contracts published on AusTender between January 2021 and October 2021—just nine months—revealed Deloitte raked in $212.3 million in contracts, EY took $190.7 million and KPMG nabbed $170.6 million.
Further, both the terms of consultancy contracts and the advice provided to the Government under those contracts are often exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information laws. This puts a range of significant policy advice out of sight of the public, a trend only likely to worsen with the Government's unjustifiable extension of cabinet exemptions to any advice provided to any committee of National Cabinet.
It is clear that the hollowing out of public service capability creates a vicious circle that facilitates ongoing reliance on outsourced policy advice, less accountability and an inherent increased risk of corruption. It has to end. Australia deserves a strong, independent public service capable of meeting the education, housing, health, social security, environmental protection and infrastructure needs of the country.
The Greens support the recommendations calling for 'in-sourcing' of core work and limiting the use of contractors and consultants. We will continue to call for greater transparency of work that is undertaken by consultants to improve public oversight of the calibre, objectivity and value for money provided by outsourced advice.
Job security is a key factor in employee satisfaction and retention.
The inquiry heard disturbing evidence of public servants working back to back contracts but unable to obtain finance to buy a house on the basis that their role is considered insecure—this is not the situation that dedicated public servants should find themselves in. The CPSU note the debilitating impact of the ASL policy:
It's not a limit on how much work is done, or how much money is spent, or even how many people can do work on behalf of the Government—it's only a limit on secure employment.
The Greens support the recommendation to prioritise ongoing positions over repeat short-term contracts to give employees the confidence and financial security to plan for the future.
The Greens also note that job insecurity compounds existing constraints on public servants' freedom to express political views in their private capacity, fearing it will reduce the prospect of contract renewal. Public servants need to be clear and confident that they can participate in public debate without this impinging on their job. The Greens will legislate to protect the right of public servants in their private capacity to engage in political advocacy, attend rallies, run for public office, participate in their union, and represent or be elected to external organisations.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi
Australian Greens Senator for New South Wales
Senator Larissa Waters
Australian Greens Senator for Queensland