This submission is primarily concerned with outsourcing functions to private consultants, which have historically been within the purview of the Australian Public Service (‘APS’). It will focus on the financial and social consequences, and advocate for better transparency, accountability, and integrity measures applicable to the engagement of private consultants, and how they perform their work.
All Australians rely on public services. From the time that we are born until the day that we die, all citizens benefit from services traditionally designed, funded and delivered by government agencies, and staffed by public sector personnel.
Public servants are the ‘human machinery’ of government and play a crucial role in facilitating the government’s constitutional obligations. Their impartiality and professionalism is vital to the efficacy of our constitutionally mandated system of responsible government, and thus they are bound by special, and sometimes onerous, ethical obligations to act in the public interest.
In contrast, the chief imperative of private companies is to generate profit. Even where they are performing tasks which aim to benefit the public, they are primarily accountable to the interests of their shareholders. They have no obligations to act in the interests of the public.
There may be some legitimate reasons to engage private consultants to undertake public policy development and related work, but the overreliance on private consultants who operate in an environment requiring less accountability and transparency than their counterparts in the APS is damaging the public service, on which every member of the public relies.