Tony Shepherd has been paid $55,000 for 17 days work producing a report which recommended that the rules governing the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund be changed to allow the government to pretty much do what it likes with its five billion dollar slush fund.
That’s the same Tony Shepherd who was paid $85,000 for a few weeks work as head of the Commission of Audit that was the basis for Abbott’s 2014 budget from hell.
The end of 2013 was a very busy time for Mr Shepherd.
He retired from his role as chairman of Transfield in October, with shares aplenty for his trouble, to work on the Audit but his role as president of the Business Council of Australia was extended until March 2014. In November he was appointed chairman of the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association and chairman of the WestConnex Delivery Authority. He was also chairman of the Greater Western Sydney AFL club and a trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust.
With all those concurrent responsibilities, it is impossible to believe that Mr Shepherd did anything but write up a justification for what the government intended to do, as he has done with this latest report.
But does he really have any idea?
The Commission of Audit recommended that 15,000 public servants be sacked but, by February this year, Shepherd was singing a different tune saying the degradation of the Australian Public Service has gone “too far”.
“We tend to talk down the public service in Australia. I think that’s a really big structural issue for us, because our form of democracy really does require a strong and very competent — and independent, I might add — public service,” Shepherd told ABC Radio National.
“I really think we need to reinvigorate it at the federal and state level in terms of its capacity and its quality. I think we have with outsourcing and privatisation, what have you, we have probably run it down a bit too far. I think it needs to be adjusted. Backwards, upwards. I’m all into rebuilding the public service, particularly at the senior level.”
“There is a good core group there in the public service in Canberra who really do a good job and do it properly and I just think we need to rebuild that at the senior level, perhaps more than at the junior level. But I guess you’ve got to have the junior level building up if you’re going to get the senior level.”
“You cannot have people placing contracts with consultants and not really understanding what the outcomes are that they are seeking and what it’s all about. You really do need to have an experienced project manager and project managers when you are doing that sort of outsource contracting work,” he said, apparently not seeing the irony.
Shepherd appeared on the radio alongside Labor MP Julian Hill, who is deputy chair of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, to discuss the committee’s upcoming inquiry into the use of contractors and consultants in the public service following a report by the Australian National Audit Office, which found that APS spending on consultants had leapt from just under $400 million to nearly $700 million between 2013-14 and 2016-17.
It’s expensive when you have to hire people who are prepared to say what you tell them to instead of using the free advice you could get from actual experts.