Defence Department splashes cash on celebrity speakers such as Ita Buttrose, John Eales

A former Wallaby, world famous ballet dancer and Ita Buttrose have been brought in on contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars to talk to the Department of Defence's top brass. 

The department is paying the Celebrity Speakers bureau $11,556 to have Buttrose, the 2013 Australian of the Year, address a 160-person commanding officers event about gender diversity for about three hours in September.

The contract prompted criticism from a union representing staff during tough bargaining negotiations earlier this week after it was published on AusTender.

On Tuesday afternoon, Defence said that cutting all guest speaker contracts would not affect pay offers. 

Defence revealed it had paid $27,500 to bring in rugby union great John Eales and Mao's Last Dancer author and dancer Li Cunxin for about six hours' work between them a year ago.

Eales talked to Defence leaders about the importance of coaching, teamwork and culture and the necessity of faith in team members' abilities, particularly in times of change.


Cunxin spoke to Defence's leadership group about "the importance of family values, passion, courage, the process of realising one's dreams, rising up to challenges, embracing changes, leadership, goal setting and achievement against impossible obstacles and odds".

"Mr Eales and Mr Cunxin were engaged as part of an extensive culture change program which targeted all air force commanding officers at the 2013 New Horizon Commanding Officer’s Call," Defence said.

Some differences in what it has cost to bring in various speakers have started to appear. 

It cost $10,800 to have designer turned innovation architect Nils Vesk work as master of ceremonies for Defence's two-day 2014 Finance Congress.

Defence paid $10,471 to have sustainability expert James Bradfield Moody give a one-hour keynote address at the same conference. 

David Smith, ACT director of Professionals Australia, which represented some staff at Defence, said it appeared none of the speakers had direct Defence backgrounds, even though all were exceptional people and had interesting stories to tell.

"I wonder whether some of these speakers are appropriate for Defence functions," Mr Smith said. "Most of the stories these people have to tell are recorded elsewhere and could be accessed and shared [with staff] for free."

It is believed the costs shown on AusTender included travel costs plus fees paid to the speaking agencies.

Mr Smith said it made sense to cover costs for speakers who attended but questioned whether it was fiscally wise to pay fees for speakers in a cash-strapped environment.


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