Senator Questions Consultants Role in Policy



Senator Questions Consultants Role in Policy

9 February 2023

Greens Senator Barbara Pocock has questioned the role of high-priced consulting firms in the development of Government policy following the refusal of a building industry lobby group to answer questions about their economic advice.

Senator Barbara Pocock slammed a report from big four firm, EY, and criticised Master Builders Australia (MBA) for using it to discredit a reputable economist.

“We need to have reliable non-partisan advice, based on real, verifiable research, not these flaky opinions produced for clients who are paying big bucks to get the outcomes they want,” she said.

Master Builders Australia copped a spray from the Senator, an Emeritus Professor of Economics, during Senate Estimates late last year and she was backed up today by the committee Chair, Senator Tony Sheldon in a letter to the MBA.

Senator Pocock, who is the Greens Finance spokesperson, called out the report as “worthless” and “not factually correct” and took Schmitke to task during the hearing for casting aspersions on the work of a highly respected and widely published economist who disagreed with the EY report and the position of the MBA. Sydney University economist Dr Phillip Toner describe the EY report as “effectively anecdotal, empirically empty, and useless.”

MBA director, Shaun Schmitke, declined to provide an answer to a Question on Notice about how much the MBA had paid EY for the report. During the hearing he said, “It certainly wasn’t cheap.” But, having agreed at the hearing to provide the costings, he declined to say in a subsequent written response to a Question on Notice, how much the report had cost saying that he didn’t think the amount was relevant to the committee’s work.

In his response today, Senator Sheldon expressed the disappointment of the committee that no answer was provided and noted that it is up to the committee to determine the relevance and importance of information sought during the inquiry. He added the committee had chosen not to insist upon an answer on this occasion.

“We’ve seen shocking evidence recently of how the use of external consultants can compromise Government processes,” Senator Pocock said.

“We need to invest those billions of dollars spent annually on external consultants, on revitalising the capacity of the Australian Public Service so that we can restore faith in the processes of Government policy formulation and Government policy can be confidently based on sound research and analysis,” she said.