The federal government is on track to rack up its highest yearly consultancy bill, averaging more than $2 million a day since the financial year began.
Nearly 1000 contracts have been entered into with consultants since the financial year began in July up until last Friday, totalling more than $220 million.
Labor's public service spokesperson senator Katy Gallagher is calling on the government to provide more transparency over the "rivers of gold" flowing to the private sector.
But Public Service Minister Ben Morton has defended the fast-growing figure, adding there were plenty of valid reasons agencies needed to go to market in order to deliver on new projects.
Among the highest spending departments was Defence, which has consistently remained at the top of the ladder on consultancy spend over the last five years.
In the 106 days since last Friday, the department had entered into a total of $46 million across 119 contracts, averaging a total of $433,000 a day.
The Agriculture, Water and the Environment and Health departments have issued more than a hundred contracts each, reaching a total of $35.8 million and $28.8 million respectively.
During the nearly four-month period, almost a quarter of consultancy contracts, or more than $50 million, were handed to big-four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Other major firms, including Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young and Boston Consulting Group, had also received contracts for millions of dollars since July.
Averaged across the amount of days in the short period, the bill has reached $2.1 million a day.
The figures come five years after former finance minister Mathias Cormann announced sweeping changes to the makeup of the public service in an effort to reduce taxpayer waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Rationale behind the majority of the contracts suggested specialised skills or independent research were needed, according to government contract notices.
A small handful said the private sector was engaged because the skills weren't available within the agency.
But Mr Morton said the public service had never been more capable than now. The last two years had been a world-class effort by public servants ravaged by the pandemic, he said.
He said there were a number of reasons consultants could be brought on and that it was up to senior figures within the agency.
"There are valid reasons why agencies may elect to use contractors including, for example, engaging specialist skills for specific tasks, meeting peaks in demand, short-term needs and fulfilling capabilities required for discreet and non-ongoing projects," Mr Morton said.
"The APS continues to put in place strategies to ensure it can attract and retain the skills it needs to deliver for Australians.
"This includes implementation of the HR, digital and data professions, designed specifically to build capability in the APS across these key areas and establishing the APS Academy."
But Senator Gallagher was less convinced at what she described as an "eye-watering" figure just three months into the financial year.
Transparency surrounding what many of the contracts were for was another question mark over the increasing cost for taxpayers.
"What's worse, though, is that the way that these contracts are reported makes it incredibly difficult to discern what they're even for, let alone establish value for money," she said.
"Just last week we saw a $5.9 million dollar consultancy contract published by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment that gives very little detail on what it's for, why it's needed and what the deliverables are other than an ambiguous description of 'Strategic Advice and Hub'.
"This is just one example of the lack of transparency that shrouds the rivers of gold flowing out to consultants, contractors and labour hire under the Morrison-Joyce government."
The release of a multimillion-dollar report delivered to the Home Affairs Department was blocked under an attempted freedom of information request last month.
The report informed the department on its social cohesion campaign but its release was denied, citing detriment to its commercial value, its revealing operations of the agency as well as a blanket exemption on cabinet documents.
In March this year, The Canberra Timesrevealed the federal government had signed up to $850 million in contracts with the largest consultancy firms since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Most of the spending was promised toward agency management advisory, which was pencilled in for $364 million.
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