Bill Shorten’s $310,000-a-year speechwriter has written 170 scripts but no zingers

A federal MP’s base salary is now $225,742. Officials from Services Australia confirmed speechwriters within the public service are paid a maximum of $140,000 a year and the agency has about 200 people in its communications team.

Other departments under Shorten include the National Disability Insurance Agency, which has about 130 staff in its communications team while the Department of Social Services has 87 – 10 of which are in the media and speech team.

Coalition spokeswoman for the NDIS Linda Reynolds said it was astonishing Shorten could not find the support from his own ministerial office, the NDIA, Services Australia and DSS and needed another contractor on top of these resources.

“Instead of wasting taxpayers money on additional spin, Minister Shorten must focus on ensuring the NDIS is sustainable for the most vulnerable Australians on the scheme,” she said.

Stewart’s LinkedIn states she has also written speech for former Qantas chief exeuctive Alan Joyce and that she is “now writing across the spectrum of the portfolio of Bill Shorten”.

“I bring out the warmth and compassion as a strength in speakers, so they build a rapport with the audience,” Stewart’s biography says.

She got her start as a storyliner and scriptwriter on 1980s Australian television soap operas Sons and Daughters and A Country Practice but now focuses on keynote speeches about disability, government service jobs and payments, parliamentary speeches and conference addresses.

You can read a selection of them here. 

Fellow Labor ministers including Employment Minister Tony Burke, Energy Minister Chris Bowen and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Matt Keogh have rallied behind Shorten, saying the contract was a matter for the department.

Speechwriter Julianne Stewart

Speechwriter Julianne Stewart

“I’m pretty convinced that Bill writes all his own zingers but this was contracted through Services Australia, not NDIS and it’s not contracted to Bill and this is a person that’s providing a range of communication services to Services Australia,” Keogh told 6PR radio on Tuesday.

Burke also said at a time of labour shortages, professions in demand get more money than they would otherwise.

“You keep ending up with situations where people, where some various professions, are getting more money than would otherwise be paid when there’s labour shortage,” he told ABC Radio National on Tuesday.

“Would that job ordinarily be paid that amount? Absolutely not, for the exact reasons that I’ve explained, that’s why it landed in the place that it did.”

Bowen also had to back Shorten, refusing to say if he thought the contract was excessive.

“They don’t work for ministers, to be clear, and ministers by and large aren’t involved in those decisions about recruiting them,” he said.

A spokesperson from Services Australia said after the COVID pandemic, the need to support ministerial and senior executive messages “increased and intensified”.

The department attempted to recruit a speechwriter externally in July 2022 and then after no applicants were found successful, used “a number of labour hire panels” but were still unable to source the appropriate expertise.

“A speechwriter was directly sourced and contracted in September 2022 to adequately support ministerial and senior executive messages, speaking engagements and speeches,” the spokesperson said.

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