Labor questions ‘dodgy’ research funding

Senior public servants have been accused of outsourcing decisions on welfare policy to a private company.

Labor latched onto a $1.76 million contract with Boston Consulting Group during a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday.

The firm was hired to conduct research on disability employment services and people with a partial capacity to work.

The social services department asked them to investigate the impact of coronavirus on income support recipients.

Labor senator Katy Gallagher said there was nothing to show for the research and accused the department of outsourcing work it should have been doing itself.

“It looks dodgy,” she told the officials.

“It’s not chicken feed, it’s not the department’s money, it’s public money, and nobody seems to know what you got for it.

“It looks to me like you have gone out of your way to hide a contract around the broader issue of JobSeeker and income support recipients.”

The review examined changes made to disability employment services in 2018.

Boston Consulting Group interviewed participants, providers and employers as part of its research.

The company also conducted detailed data mining and analysed research from Australia and overseas, including evaluations of international employment assistance programs for people with disability.

The report found the number of disability employment services participants and outcomes had both increased since 2018.

The department has insisted it was already aware of both figures and published the information on a regular basis.

It remains unclear whether the review contained any other findings.

The department says it is using information from the report to make administrative changes and advise the government on policies and programs.

Senior official Catherine Rule apologised for previously telling the committee the review had no recommendations, when it actually contained more than 60.

“I did not intend to mislead the committee,” she said.

Ms Rule said she was referring to recommendations to the minister in her earlier answer.

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