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Bill Shorten’s speechwriter paid $300,000 a year by Services Australia, Senate estimates told | Australian politics

PoliticsBill Shorten’s speechwriter paid $300,000 a year by Services Australia, Senate estimates told | Australian politics

A professional speechwriter contracted to work with the government services minister, Bill Shorten, is expected to cost taxpayers $600,000 over two years, despite Services Australia employing 200 media and communication staff.

Appearing in Senate estimates on Monday, Services Australia confirmed Julianne Stewart has secured a government contract worth about $300,000 a year, which is in its second year. The arrangement came to light after the tender was published on the government’s AusTender website.

Stewart is making almost double some of the highest-paid speechwriters within the agency, which confirmed those among its senior ranks would take home around $140,000 a year.

Stewart’s LinkedIn profile states she has been in the role for a year and nine months and provides “contract speechwriting services to Services Australia and the Hon Bill Shorten, MP, Minister for Government Services and the NDIS”.

When questioned by the Liberal senator Maria Kovacic about the speechwriter’s contract, the Services Australia deputy chief executive officer, Susie Smith, said the department had “capability” to deliver the contract.

“We do have the capability. I think it comes down to a question of choice,” Smith told Senate estimates. “We have speechwriters as part of our communications capability, yes.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Services Australia said “speechwriting is a specialist skillset” with “accomplished and high calibre writers” difficult to find.

“An external recruitment exercise was undertaken in July 2022 but there were no applicants found suitable commensurate with the level,” the spokesperson said.

“To meet the increased demand, a number of labour hire panels were approached to secure speechwriting services, however, the specialist skills and expertise required were unable to be sourced through panel providers.”

At the end of April, the total cost of the contract paid was $447,516, excluding GST.

Services Australia officials said Stewart commuted from Sydney to Canberra for the role and confirmed the department had not written speeches for the minister in the past 12 months.

Stewart has previously written speeches for four prime ministers, including Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, the former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, and two vice-chancellors of UNSW, according to her LinkedIn.

Shorten told A Current Affair on Monday night the focus on the payments was a “cheap Liberal tactic”, saying he wasn’t involved in negotiating the contract but defended the employee.

“The hiring of a speechwriter was done by Services Australia. I have no idea what the payment was. So if you’re trying to link me to that, you know, good luck,” he said.

“The person involved, who is a speechwriter, does a very good job. I’m not responsible for negotiating a contract.”

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Shorten’s office was contacted for comment..

The opposition’s government services spokesperson, Paul Fletcher, said the funding was a waste of money amid a cost-of-living crisis.

“Australians are enduring skyrocketing call wait times and slow payment processing times at Services Australia. Yet Labor is more concerned about spin than improving its performance,” Fletcher said.

“How a speechwriter can earn more than an MP or Senator is bizarre and makes no sense.”

The Liberal senator Linda Reynolds asked Services Australia officials if it was acceptable to spend the money on hiring an additional speechwriter.

“When Services Australia, who is paying for this contract is keeping people waiting increasingly longer for crisis payments, for aged care payments, do you think this use of taxpayer’s money for an extra speech writeis appropriate? Did you push back on this contract?” she asked Smith.

Smith replied: “I think you are asking me for a matter of opinion and I don’t have an opinion about this.”

“I think Australians would love to know why you are spending this much money when it could be far better used in additional staff to process people’s claims,” Reynolds said.

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