The Australian Labor Party has flagged significant changes to government IT procurement rules that would see vendors punished for luring digital talent away from the public sector.
Shadow minister for the digital economy Ed Husic strongly hinted the changes will come should the Labor Party be elected at the upcoming federal election in his speech to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) last week.
The reformist balloon floating is targeted at defending and maintaining digital capability within the federal government in a bid to curb its reliance on IT contractors.
It follows ongoing calls from the union movement for the federal government to reduce its reliance on IT contractors and instead invest in internal staff, systems and training to support digital government service delivery.
Addressing the National Press Club on Friday, Husic said vendors “luring [public servants] away with hefty salary offers” went a long way towards eroding digital capability.
“We are concerned about reports of large vendors to government actively poaching talented public servants to work on the very government ICT projects they were hired to complete,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we love that you love the talent that exists in the public sector. It’s a pleasant change to the sport of deprecating hard working public servants.”
“But we need to hold onto and build that skills base.”
Citing the last IT expenditure benchmark report to be released by the Department of Finance, Husic said contractors now accounted for a third of the APS IT workforce, despite costing $82,000 more on average per year.
“The APS employs over 14,000 ICT personnel. A third of them: contractors,” he said, adding that this had increase over the past six years, while spend on internal IT personnel has fallen.
“This over-reliance on contractors is unsustainable going forward.”
To at least partly address concerns around the revolving door between government and the private sector, Labor is planning to investigate reports of poaching and consider reviewing vendor actions.
Some of the mechanisms available to track “digital poachers” and curb their behaviour could include reviewing contract terms and contract management approaches, Husic said.
However details on just how the new approach would work, or how Labor intends to filter out those individual public servants it says will still be able to explore work opportunities in the private sector, remains to be seen.
Husic also used his address to question the speed at which the government was building internal capability though apprenticeship pathways.
“While we have favourably looked upon federal government moves to broaden the intake of public servants with digital capability (via digital apprenticeship pathways), it’s worth questioning the scale - and pace - of that endeavour,” he said.
“This is something that our side is considering as we look to the needs of the public service into the future.”
However, elsewhere the DTA is working with the Australian Public Sector Commission on at least eight projects to help develop digital skills, including a digital leadership program focused solely on senior executives.