The Block star Scott Cam to be paid $345,000 as national careers ambassador

Paul Karp
Photograph: James Gourley/AAP

The Block star Scott Cam will be paid $345,000 for 15 months’ work as the national careers ambassador, employment department officials have revealed.

In October the employment and skills minister, Michaelia Cash, announced Cam’s appointment to the role promoting vocational education, but refused to reveal his pay, arguing it was “commercial in confidence”.

On Thursday Nadine Williams, the deputy secretary for the skills and training group, revealed in spillover estimates that the value of Cam’s contract is $260,000 in the first year and $85,000 in the second year, excluding GST. The government has previously described the role as a 15-month position.

On Friday Scott Morrison defended Cam’s pay, telling reporters in Canberra he made “no apology for trying to get young people into trades”.

Morrison described Cam as “a successful tradie” who can make clear the message that there are “wonderful economic opportunities” for taking on a trade.

“We made no secret about the fact he wasn’t doing it as a volunteer.

“So look, this is about getting young people into trades. And he’s a high-profile person involved in the media industry, and you have to meet the market.”

The appointment prompted fury from Labor and the unions, who called on the Coalition to stop hiring “celebrities” and properly fund Tafe and apprentices instead, claiming $3bn had been cut from vocational education since it came to office.

Related: Coalition refuses to say how much Scott Cam is being paid as 'national careers ambassador'

However, as Cash noted in estimates on Thursday, Cam had been “utilised by former Labor governments as well”. In 2009 the Labor government paid $74,250
to SWC Contractors for “representational services by Mr Scott Cam at Centrelink Job Expos”, with a further $76,500 paid in 2011 to the same company.

In October, Cash described Cam’s role as “to work with us to really get [the] message out” about the value of vocational education, explaining she would be “out and about with Scott attending high-profile events” to do so.

Cash described Cam as a “former apprentice around 40 years ago now” and “literally a household name in Australia”, citing the fact he ran his own business and had employed apprentices as qualifications for the role.

Cam did a three-year carpentry apprenticeship at age 17 and has worked as a television presenter since 2000 when he first appeared on Backyard Blitz. He won a Gold Logie award in 2014 for hosting renovation reality television show The Block.

On Thursday departmental officials also defended the appointment of the former Liberal staffer Adam Boyton to the $500,000-a-year job of interim national skills commissioner through a limited tender.

Williams said that Boyton was appointed after an “open merit-driven, competitive process” due to the “technical merit of his experience” including as a member of the New South Wales government skills board and chief economist at the Business Council of Australia and Deutsche Bank in Australia.

The department received 24 applications after advertising for the position, interviewed nine candidates and put three forward for government consideration.

Boyton was the department’s preferred “merit recommendation”, who was then appointed by cabinet at Cash’s recommendation.

The Austender contract notice states Boyton was appointed through a limited tender.

According to procurement rules, limited tender allows the government to approach a particular supplier to apply and the regular rules of open tenders do not apply. Those rules include a 25-day period for applications, a guarantee of fairness and impartiality, and that submissions are treated in confidence.

Boyton is a former policy director and chief of staff to the former NSW Liberal leader John Brogden.

Cash told the estimates committee she did not know Boyton before the application process.