5 June 2024

Shorten says he had nothing to do with the $300,000 a year speechwriter contract

| Chris Johnson
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Government Services Minister Bill Shorten says he had nothing to do with negotiating a contract for his speechwriter. Photo: File.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten insists he had no involvement in negotiating a contract for a highly paid speechwriter, who was revealed in Senate Estimates to be earning more than $300,000 a year.

Mr Shorten also stressed that the speechwriter in question was doing a great job.

This week, a Budget Estimates hearing was told that Services Australia had given speechwriter Julianne Stewart a two-year $620,000 contract to write speeches for the minister.

Speechwriters in the actual employ of the agency earn about $140,000 a year.

The Opposition jumped the figure, demanding to know why and how the appointment was made.

Services Australia deputy chief executive officer for strategy and performance Susie Smith was bombarded with questions from Liberal and Greens senators.

Mr Shorten subsequently dismissed the “outrage” as a “cheap” Coalition tactic and said during a subsequent television interview that he had nothing to do with the contract.

READ ALSO Services Australia’s speechwriter appointment for Shorten under the Senate microscope

“First of all, I think that the hiring of a speechwriter was done by Services Australia. I had no idea what the payment was,” he told Channel Nine.

“So, if you’re trying to link me to that, you know, good luck!

“The point about it is the person involved, who’s a speechwriter, does a very good job.

“I’m not responsible for negotiating a contract.”

Government frontbenchers jumped to Mr Shorten’s defence in various interviews the following day.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke wouldn’t be drawn on whether he thought taxpayers were getting value for money from the speechwriter’s salary but said the agency made the appointment.

“They’d gone through a process by trying to get somebody in-house, then by trying labour hire, they ended up doing an external contract,” Mr Burke told ABC Radio.

“At a time of labour shortage, you keep ending up with situations where various professions are getting more money than would otherwise be paid.

“The department has made that decision. The minister has not made that decision … would that job ordinarily be paid that amount? Absolutely not.”

READ ALSO Fair Work Commission sets minimum wage rates increase at 3.75 per cent

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen also defended his colleague during an ABC interview, saying a government department’s communication team was “pretty damn important” because they connect with millions of people every day.

“Departments and agencies have a range of communications officials who contribute to ministerial speeches,” he said.

“They would be doing much more than that; they wouldn’t just be contributing to ministerial speeches.

“Governments of all persuasions, of course, have communications officials who contribute.

“They don’t work for ministers, to be clear.”

Mr Shorten wasn’t asked about the speechwriter’s contract during parliamentary Question Time.

Region also understands that Ms Smith’s performance in estimates, fielding all the questions over the contract, was highly regarded by her departmental bosses and the minister.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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