Administration of the Parliamentary Service
Review of the Parliamentary Service Act
The Commissioner's annual report 2010–11 referred to the report Ahead of the game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian Government administration (the Blueprint). One of the significant initiatives arising from the Blueprint is the Public Service bill which was introduced into the House of Representatives on 1 March 2012.
Many of the changes proposed in the Parliamentary Service bill are relevant to the Parliamentary Service and the parliamentary departments have agreed on legislation to implement a series of changes modelled on relevant items in the Public Service bill. A bill to amend the Parliamentary Service Act has been prepared for introduction.
Significant among the proposed amendments are:
- more concise Parliamentary Service Values that will be complemented in the legislation by a set of employment principles
- revised provisions for receiving and dealing with whistleblower reports
- revised roles of the Senior Executive Service
- expanded roles and responsibilities of secretaries
- revised arrangements for the provision and use of confidential information
- a power for the Merit Protection Commissioner to delegate his or her powers to Parliamentary Service or Australian Public Service employees.
Freedom of information
On 9 May 2012, the Australian Information Commissioner amended the guidelines issued under s. 93A of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) to state that the Department of the House of Representatives, the Department of the Senate and DPS were subject to the FOI Act. Prior to this, the guidelines stated that the FOI Act did not apply to the departments of the Parliament. This stated change did not result from an amendment to the FOI Act or any other legislation.
The three parliamentary departments mentioned have sought to comply with the spirit of the FOI Act in responding to requests for documents on a case by case basis, and they are continuing to respond to requests as they are received. In relation to other obligations arising under the FOI Act, the three departments are developing an appropriate framework to deal with them.
The PBO is expressly exempted from the application of the FOI Act, under s. 7(1) and Division 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 of the FOI Act.
Parliamentary Budget Office
Following the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office, the government introduced legislation in August 2011 to amend the Parliamentary Service Act to establish the PBO as a Department of the Parliament. The legislation was enacted and was proclaimed on 15 February 2012.
The Presiding Officers requested the Commissioner to advise them on candidates suitable for appointment as Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Commissioner conducted a selection process and provided advice to the Presiding Officers. The Presiding Officers subsequently appointed Mr Phil Bowen as Parliamentary Budget Officer after obtaining the approval of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, as required by the Parliamentary Service Act. Mr Bowen's appointment is for a four–year term from 23 July 2012. Prior to this appointment Mr Bowen was a Director of the Asian Development Bank. He was formerly a senior official with the then Department of Finance and Administration.
Mr Mathew Fox, a Senior Executive Service employee of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, was engaged as interim executive officer for a period of six months from 19 April 2012 to begin work to establish the PBO. The PBO commenced operations from the date of Mr Bowen's appointment.
New Secretary, Department of Parliamentary Services
The Secretary, DPS, Mr Alan Thompson retired on 24 May 2012. After receiving a report on the vacancy from the Commissioner, as required by the Parliamentary Service Act, the Presiding Officers appointed Ms Carol Mills as Secretary, DPS, from 28 May 2012 for a period of five years. Ms Mills has held a number of senior public service positions with the New South Wales (NSW) government.
Mr Russell D Grove, PSM, former Clerk of the NSW Legislative Assembly, acted as Secretary from 10 March 2012 until Ms Mills' commencement.
Section 40(1)(b) of the Parliamentary Service Act enables the Commissioner 'to inquire into and report on matters relating to the Parliamentary Service' if requested by the Presiding Officers. The Commissioner provided reports on two such matters during the year. Both involved allegations about senior departmental officials and neither resulted in action being taken in relation to the officials.
Consistent with the Parliamentary Service Act and Parliamentary Service Determination 2003/2, allegations about another official were referred to the Presiding Officers and allegations about two employees were referred in early July 2012 to the Merit Protection Commissioner. The Presiding Officers have asked the Commissioner for advice on the matter that was referred to them.
Information and communications technology review
The Presiding Officers requested the Commissioner to undertake a review of information and communications technology (ICT) for the Parliament. Mr Michael Roche was commissioned to undertake the review. The review was overseen by a senior steering committee, with representatives of the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House of Representatives and DPS. The draft report was nearing completion at year end.
Common service arrangements
Previous annual reports of the Commissioner have referred to work by the parliamentary departments addressing common service arrangements across the departments. The main related development during the year was the ICT review mentioned above. In addition, DPS will provide most of the corporate support services for the PBO. The Department of the House of Representatives will provide the payroll function for the PBO.
Liaison between the Australian Public Service Commission and the Parliamentary Service
Senior Parliamentary Service and Commission employees have continued to liaise on current issues and the development of changes to the Public Service Act and the Parliamentary Service Act arising from the Blueprint. They met on 19 June 2012 to discuss the proposed Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill.