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DFAT websites cost taxpayers $113,000


Phillip Thomson

Julie Bishop's DFAT websites came under fire in a Senate budget estimates hearing on Wednesday.

Julie Bishop's DFAT websites came under fire in a Senate budget estimates hearing on Wednesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Three websites for the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolios have cost taxpayers $113,130, according to answers to questions on notice. 

The costs include more than $68,000 for "website testing", $19,000 for training, $15,000 for "website release management" and $10,000 for "website deployment". 

"I assume [website deployment] means pushing the button to put it up," said Labor Senator Joseph Ludwig, who was asking top bureaucrats about the costs in a Senate budget estimates hearing on Wednesday morning.  

Senator Ludwig later said: "This is just more evidence of the twisted priorities of the government while it breaks its promises to pensioners, students and low and middle income families."

DFAT secretary Peter Varghese said work on the websites was not at the request of the portfolio ministers; Julie Bishop, her parliamentary secretary Brett Mason or Trade Minister Andrew Robb. 

Senators on all sides of politics have had a laser-like focus on spending in the public service during the past 10 days of budget estimates.

Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick was grilled on almost $1 million for training and catering for bureaucrats over a number of years. 

About 500 public service jobs will be cut at the department in the next 13 months, about 12 per cent of the organisation, after the federal budget imposed cuts of $100 million in the 2014-15 financial year.

A DFAT spokesman said the money spent on websites was part of "normal upgrades to ICT systems".

"The upgrades were done because the websites had been supported by older technologies that needed to be replaced as they were at end of their operational life," the spokesman said.

"The change to a new technology for these sites was undertaken as part of a broader move to modernise the department’s online services platforms.

"The new websites are easier to maintain and provide a better quality of service.”

Mr Varghese told the hearing he still believed natural attrition and voluntary redundancies would achieve the reduction in the workforce. 

So far, 60 per cent of the staff who have taken redundancies have been former AusAID employees. As of May 22, 12 senior executives and 149 other staff had taken redundancy or incentives to retire. 

At the same hearing, DFAT executives revealed the bureaucracy's request to see former foreign minister Bob Carr's book before it was published was ignored.

Mr Varghese said the department provided documents to Mr Carr to help with the book, Diary of a Foreign Minister, with the request that a draft be shown.

"I never saw a draft of the book," he said.

When asked if he was ignored, the secretary said: "I didn't receive a response to my request." 

14 comments so far

  • Is the web-site for Ms Bishop, or is it for her portfolio? If it is for her then that should be funded by herself or her party, however if it is for the portfolio then is the cost of publishing this information in any way unreasonable? Can we have some clarity regarding this, or is this asking too much of those in the Senate Budget Estimates hearing?

    Can we also have comparative figures from the previous government?

    Date and time
    June 04, 2014, 1:09PM
    • Interesting fact to add to the debate. The website is built on an open source content management system (which means the installation and structure of the website cost $0, the design, customisation and content loading would have taken time and development).

      I vote 1 for this being just a liiiiiittle crazy.

      I make websites, it's my thing. Her page would have been made, developed, tested with training material and hands on training for less than $3,500. Given it is a parlimentary communication medium, it would also be one that was a little more user friendly...

      Daily reader
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 1:32PM
      • A lot of the graphics in the main parts of the site like 'About' pages aren't even optimised for the web (many pics >2mb, >3000px wide) and aren't named usefully or (untitled.jpg) or alt-tagged for accessibility - very basic stuff. Open graph descriptions are listed wrongly in the source code (for Telethon Kids Institute), etc.

        Not sure what the other two sites were but you'd hope this one didn't account for the lion's share of the spend - it's literally just an off-the-shelf Wordpress site and probably a cosmetic overhaul of an existing website at best.

        Guessing wasn't one of those sites - that one comes up on page 1 of a Google search for her name and has links on the front page to a tattoo removal business in Perth.

        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 1:35PM
        • Julie Bishop is all about Julie Bishop.

          G Sacramento
          Date and time
          June 04, 2014, 2:11PM
          • Does he evn know how to turn a computer on?

            turn the light on Senator Joe
            Date and time
            June 04, 2014, 3:57PM
            • Jules - give me a call. I know plenty of Aussie companies who would do all that for 10% of that price and still make a profit and with probably far better quality.

              a don
              Date and time
              June 04, 2014, 4:06PM
              • "I assume (website deployment) means pushing the button to put it up," said Labor Senator Joseph Ludwig,

                Yes exactly. Like military deployment just means pushing uniformed men out of panes at 10,000 feet!. Simplification is mean to work only up to point.

                Luddite with a wig
                Date and time
                June 04, 2014, 5:18PM
                • What a nothing article. Websites are the main vehicle for agencies to communicate with a wide variety of their constituents. Of course they are going to cost a lot if money to do properly. The alternative is you get them wrong and face further criticism.

                  Date and time
                  June 04, 2014, 5:30PM
                  • That seems amazingly cheap, given that Sydney Water was suckered into paying $7 million for a pretty pathetic website.

                    Date and time
                    June 04, 2014, 6:56PM
                    • That seems reasonable for such an important communication tool. How much did the website for this newspaper cost to build?

                      Date and time
                      June 04, 2014, 7:09PM

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