Brenton Holmes and Cathy Madden
Budget measures for the parliamentary departments flow largely from the Government’s commitments to parliamentary reform and other matters arising from various agreements with independent MPs and the Australian Greens.
The Agreement for a Better Parliament, negotiated in September 2010 between the Government, Coalition and Independents, provided for, among other things:
- more sitting days each year
- the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office, and
- a review of staffing levels for House committees.
The Committee Office staffing review proposed a ‘modest increase’ in resources for House committees. The report of the review ‘will be central in managing the strategic direction of committee support in future years’.  The Joint Select Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) was established by resolution in November 2010 and its report was tabled on 23 March 2011. The Committee inquired into the mandate, resourcing and protocols for the PBO, including consideration of comparable overseas bodies.
The Government also agreed to support the establishment of a Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, chaired by Independent MP Andrew Wilkie. The Joint Committee was established on 30 September 2010 and is resourced through the Department of the Senate.
Parliamentary Budget Office
The Government will provide $24.9 million over four years to establish a Parliamentary Budget Office. The PBO will be headed by a statutory officer, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The PBO will be established as a new entity and will provide Parliament with independent advice and policy analysis on the Budget, fiscal policy and the financial impacts of policy proposals. The Government will undertake further work in relation to the specific functions of the PBO, governance and accountability arrangements and the PBO's interactions with Government agencies.
Funding of $0.5 million previously allocated to the Parliamentary Library for 2013–14 to provide policy advice to non-government MPs in election years is being redirected to the PBO.
The Budget provides funding to the parliamentary departments for additional staffing, Hansard, broadcasting and security costs arising from additional scheduled sitting hours over the life of the 43rd Parliament. It also supports the establishment of new parliamentary committees. However, as small agencies, the parliamentary departments have highlighted for several years, in their annual reports and elsewhere, the compounding budgetary difficulties arising from application of the efficiency dividend. In 2008, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit reported that:
many small agencies report that they are no longer able to find genuine efficiency savings. To meet the efficiency dividend requirement, many small agencies have resorted to reducing or discontinuing activities that they consider to be lower priority or discretionary. For some agencies, their ability to deliver on core functions has been restricted.
The temporary additional 0.25 per cent dividend sought by the Government will add to the parliamentary departments’ difficulties in delivering the expected level of service within budget.
• Department of the House of Representatives
The Budget provides the Department with an additional $1.008 million over two years to meet the costs of extra scheduled sitting hours. As well, it provides $2.1 million over four years to support the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network. According to the Department’s PBS, the additional funding for the new measures ‘should take considerable pressure off the Department’s budgetary position in 2011–12 and 2012–13’, although ‘the budgetary position will remain tight in the forward years’.
The PBS also notes:
The financial year 2011–12 marks the peak year in the current parliamentary cycle and activity levels across all areas of operations of the Department are expected to be high.... [The] advent of the 43rd Parliament, with the first minority government in the House of Representatives for nearly 70 years, has increased the pressure on advice and service delivery.
The total appropriation for the Department in the 2011–12 Budget is $23.253 million, comprising $21.848 million (operating) and $1.405 million (capital).
• Department of the Senate
The Department has received additional funding for one new initiative—the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform mentioned above. The committee was established to pursue gambling reforms, including the roll out of a full national pre-commitment scheme by 2014, and will present its final report to Parliament no later than 30 June 2013.  The total additional funding over three years amounts to $1.355 million, of which $0.33 million was approved for the 2010–11 budget period. (The funding for 2010-11 has been included in the 2011–12 Budget appropriation, so that in FY 2011–12 the Department will receive $0.841m for this measure.)
The total appropriation for the Department of the Senate in the 2011–12 Budget is $21.569 million, which includes both the amount for the Joint Committee on Gambling Reform and a capital appropriation of $0.815 million. This amount compares with $20.5m appropriated in 2010–11. 
• Department of Parliamentary Services
The Department will receive funding of $0.677 million over two years to meet increased costs for Hansard, broadcasting and security services arising from additional sitting hours. The appropriation for FY 2011–12 comprises $102.932 million (operating) and $20.133 million (capital)—a total Departmental appropriation of $123.065 million—and $12.279 million administered funding for the Parliament House Works program. The Department’s PBS notes that supplier costs continue to rise at rates higher than the budget supplementation.
A decline in purchasing power and the additional 0.5% efficiency dividend in 2011–12 will necessitate a succession of cost savings actions. For example, in 2010–11, actions included reducing staff levels by over 20 FTE and a further reduction of around 6 is planned for 2011–12.
Additional staffing entitlement for senators and members
The Budget provides for a total of 10 additional personal staff for government and non-government members. The Budget funding is $7.2 million over five years, with $700 000 in FY 2010–11, and $1.6 million in each of the following four financial years. Partly in response to the Henderson review of government staffing undertaken in 2009, the Government had provided $44 million over four years in the 2009–10 Budget to employ an additional 44 government and non-government personal staff. It has been reported that of these 44 positions, 34 were allocated to ministers’ offices.
The number of Government personal staff has increased from 368 as at 1 October 2009 to 420 as at 1 February 2011. Special Minister of State, Mr Gray, has been reported as saying that the Government's staffing level of 420 positions is still 10.2 per cent below the 467.9 full time equivalent staff positions of the Howard government in 2007.
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