The Defence Department is spending tens of thousands of dollars on "celebrity speakers" as it offers staff a pay rise two per cent below inflation.
Taxpayers have forked out at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past couple of years for speaking events across the federal public service.
Records show well-known faces rented out to federal departments and agencies by keynote speaking agencies are each raking in $10,000 to $15,000 a pop in fees.
Late last month, in the midst of austere bargaining negotiations with 20,000 civilian staff, Defence published details of a tender contract showing it was going to pay the Celebrity Speakers agency $11,556 for an talk by an as yet unpublicised guest.
The contracted agency describes itself as the industry's premier speakers bureau while its website shows it has such notables on its books as Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith and comedian Wil Anderson.
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The Defence Department and Minister David Johnston's office have not answered questions about the celebrity speaking contract after being sent questions on Thursday but the opposition, and at least one union, were highly critical.
Senator Penny Wong said it was "another example of how extraordinarily out of touch the Abbott government had become".
"Earlier this year Joe Hockey spent $50,000 flying a celebrity chef to Washington to cook dinner for himself and international finance ministers," Ms Wong said.
"Now the government is splashing tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on celebrity speakers at the same time as it is slashing jobs and cutting public services in areas like health and education.
"Rather than hiring celebrities to deliver motivational talks, the Abbott government should just try listening to the public and keeping its promises."
At the time of the reports about the $50,000 spent on a chef, a spokesman for Mr Hockey told News Limited the dinner represented excellent value for money.
Defence paid another $10,800 to have an as yet unpublicised person from Saxton Speakers Bureau - which has highly respected ex politicians and judges on its books such as Bob Carr, John Howard and Michael Kirby - to talk at a finance congress earlier this year.
On Sunday there were reports Minister Johnston had spent more than $100,000 sending RAAF aircraft to pick up MPs despite constant talk of a budget emergency.
Professionals Australia's ACT director David Smith, who represents a number of staff particularly in engineering at Defence, said while celebrity speakers were sometimes used to inspire employees he would prefer to see staff respected during bargaining negotiations.
"Here is a simpler suggestion [for] Minister Johnston - treat your workforce with respect - provide for fair and reasonable pay increases and don’t take an axe to working conditions," Mr Smith said.
"Fix the skills deficits in engineering and science expertise rather than be blinded by celebrity."
The budget outlined almost 2300 job cuts to Defence over five years and in Estimates hearings. Last week the Defence Department's position on pay was leaked to the media and it showed less than 0.9 per cent a year pay increases would be offered to its civilian workers.