Consultants and contractors now outnumber public servants in Defence Department
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Consultants and contractors now outnumber public servants in Defence Department

The Defence Department's boss has warned he will be a "mongrel" if his executives do not trim the numbers of public servants working at the giant department.

Departmental secretary Dennis Richardson bared his teeth to more than 2000 of his workers while revealing the bombshell news that consultants, contractors and other "service providers" now outnumber the department's public service workforce.

Mongrel punter: Defence Department Secretary Dennis Richardson.

Mongrel punter: Defence Department Secretary Dennis Richardson.Credit:Jay Cronan

Mr Richardson said he was frustrated that after his deep cuts to public service numbers in his department, now down to about 17,200, he was told there were up to 18,000 service providers, consultants and contractors on the books.

The numbers have to be managed, Mr Richardson says, and using language not normally heard from Canberra's public service mandarins, he does not care if he makes himself unpopular while he does it.

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The former ambassador to the United States was not diplomatic as he told about 2000 public servants from Defence's Science and Technology Group that he expected units within the department to adhere to the headcounts they had been assigned by central management.

Mr Richardson told the webinar on Monday, February 13, that he or his senior executives would step in and impose cuts on business units that failed to shed staff themselves.

"You seek to manage things on the public service side, and then all of a sudden you see growth out here," Mr Richards told the webinar on Monday, February 13.

"You get really annoyed by that and you end up having to be a mongrel," the departmental secretary said.

"Now I don't like being a mongrel but I have managed organisations for 20 years and if I'm given no choice, that is precisely what I'll do.

"I'm not elected, it doesn't effect me if people like me or whether they don't.

"I'm paid to manage and if I have to take unpopular decisions then I will.

"I seek to be reasonable."

Mr Richardson said he and his senior executives were considering capping the amount of money Defence could spend on consultants after their number at the department had ballooned from 363 to 705 in less than a year.

Overall, the webinar was told, there were between 17,000 and 18,000 contractors, consultants and other "service providers" at Defence.

Mr Richardson said the numbers of public servants at the giant department was capped at 18,200 and that he expected to be called upon to fill that cap to comply with government policies.

"Any idiot is aware that we're going to have to grow the workforce in respect of submarines and we're going to have to grow the workforce in respect of future frigates," he said.

"But if you were an idiot, you would allocate your full 18,200 now."

But one workplace union, Professionals Australia, said it should be obvious to Mr Richardson that consultants and contractors would be drafted in to fill the gaps left by a dwindling public service workforce.

"How he can be surprised that contracting, either directly or through service providers, is going through the roof at the same time as he has put an artificial cap on the APS workforce and the actual required work of Defence is going up?," union official Dave Smith said.

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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