Senate’s appropriations and staffing
Appropriations for the Department of the Senate are determined in the first instance by the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing, which also advises the President on staffing matters.
The committee was established following the adoption of recommendations in the report of the Select Committee on Parliament’s Appropriations and Staffing tabled in the Senate on 18 August 1981. The select committee referred to the unsatisfactory situation then prevailing whereby the appropriations for the parliamentary departments were included in the appropriation bills for the ordinary annual services of government, thus making Parliament dependent on the executive for funds and contradicting the principles of separation of powers and parliamentary independence. The history of the issue is covered in Chapter 2 of the select committee’s report. The select committee recommended a separate appropriation bill for the Parliament, the creation of a mechanism for considering staffing proposals and determining the appropriations for the Department of the Senate, independently of, but in consultation with, the government, and amendment of the then relevant legislation to give the Presiding Officers greater autonomy over staffing matters. The recommendations were supported by all parties in the Senate and were accepted by the government, subject to the proviso that the government insisted on maintaining ultimate control over the total amount of funds available to the Parliament because of its responsibility in relation to public expenditure. A separate appropriation bill for the Parliament was introduced for 1982-83 and thereafter. The Appropriations and Staffing Committee was first appointed in 1982. The select committee recommended the establishment of a similar standing committee in the House of Representatives to consider staffing and appropriations matters relating to that House, and to meet with the Senate committee in relation to joint services. In 2010, under pressure from independent and minor party members, the minority government agreed to the establishment of an equivalent committee in the House.
The standing committee is established by standing order 19, which provides:
The Committee shall inquire into:
- proposals for the annual estimates and the additional estimates for the Senate;
- proposals to vary the staff structure of the Senate, and staffing and recruitment policies; and
- such other matters as are referred to it by the Senate.
- in relation to the estimates —
- determine the amounts for inclusion in the parliamentary appropriation bills for the annual and the additional appropriations, and
- report to the Senate upon its determinations prior to the consideration by the Senate of the relevant parliamentary appropriation bill;
- in relation to staffing —
- make recommendations to the President, and
- report to the Senate on any matter;
- make an annual report to the Senate on the operations of the Senate’s appropriations and staffing, and related matters; and
- consider the administration and funding of security measures affecting the Senate and advise the President and the Senate as appropriate.
The standing committee’s method of operation is largely as envisaged by the select committee chair, Senator Jessop, who, in responding to queries from Senator Peter Rae, gave the following description of its intended procedures:
In relation to the estimates, both Budget and Additional, the proposals of the Clerk of the Senate for the Senate and its Committees would be submitted to the proposed Committee through the President as Chairman.
A programme of deliberative meetings of the Committee would then follow, open to all interested Senators, during which the Clerk’s estimates would be examined, added to, deleted or reduced, as thought necessary. In addition, other proposals from Senators or groups of Senators could be considered for inclusion in the Estimates of the Senate.
The Estimates, as finally agreed upon by the Committee would then be submitted by the President to the Minister or Finance for inclusion, without modification, in a separate Parliamentary Appropriation Bill.
The Committee would then prepare a report covering its deliberations concerning the Estimates for use by the Senate when considering the Parliamentary Appropriation Bill, after its receipt from the House of Representatives.
In the period from 1985 to 1995, the then Minister for Finance occasionally unilaterally modified the amounts determined by the committee for inclusion in the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill and this was a source of dispute between the committee and the government. The matter was extensively discussed before Estimates Committee A during the 1985 Budget sittings, followed by a lengthy debate on the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1985-86, during which the Chair of Estimates Committee A, Senator Richardson, moved the following motion in committee of the whole:
That the committee, having considered the report of Estimates Committee A, recommends:
- the provisions of the Resolution of the Senate dated 25 March 1982, relating to the responsibilities of the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing with respect to the Estimates for the Senate, are reaffirmed;
- the estimates of expenditure for the Senate to be included in the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill shall continue to be those determined by the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing;
- if before the introduction of the Bill the Minister for Finance should, for any reason, wish to vary the details of the estimates determined by the Committee he should consult with the President of the Senate with a view to obtaining the agreement of the Committee to any variation;
- in the event of agreement not being reached between the President and the Minister, then the Leader of the Government in the Senate, as a member of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, be consulted;
- the Senate acknowledges that in considering any request from the Minister for Finance the Committee and the Senate would take into consideration the relevant expenditure and staffing policies of the Government of the day; and
- in turn the Senate expects the Government of the day to take into consideration the role and responsibilities of the Senate which are not of the Executive Government and which may at times involve conflict with the Executive Government.
The resolution was agreed to and provided some basis for resolving disputes between the committee and the Minister for Finance. It soon became apparent, however, that the intent of the resolution could be circumvented by delay on the part of the Minister for Finance, leaving insufficient time for consultation with the President and the committee on any modified figure to be included in the bill. This matter was canvassed in the Eleventh Report of the committee presented on 1 September 1988. During debate in committee of the whole on the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1988-89 in November 1988, the following resolution, recommended by the committee and moved by Senator Michael Baume, was agreed to:
That the committee, having considered the Eleventh Report of the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing —
- reaffirms the Resolution of 2 December 1985 concerning the determination of the estimates of expenditure for the Senate to be included in the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill;
- requires the Minister for Finance to process the Senate Department’s estimates as early as practicable to enable any differences between the Minister and the Committee to be resolved in accordance with the Resolution; and
- expects that the Resolution will be adhered to in determining those estimates in the future.
The same resolution had also been agreed to on 28 September 1988 by the adoption of the committee’s Eleventh Report.
The committee’s Twelfth Report, presented on 24 October 1989, quoted from the opening statement made by the President to Estimates Committee A on 26 September 1989 in which he noted correspondence with the Leader of the Government in the Senate pointing out the desirability of having a well-briefed minister at committee meetings to represent the government’s view and to participate in the process of determining the appropriations. The Twelfth Report also noted the introduction of the running costs system under which continuing levels of expenditure for normal operations would proceed on an agreed basis, with funding for new policy or unforeseen matters to be determined in the usual way. Following the establishment of a base level of funding, the Senate Department would be responsible for management of its own resources and determination of priorities within the net funding level provided. The committee agreed that this system should be tried but did not accept that the 1989-90 appropriations represented an adequate base. It was apparent that satisfactory negotiations on the amounts for new policy would depend on the Minister for Finance’s compliance with the relevant resolutions.
In May 1994, after the committee had formally agreed to the adoption of the running costs system for the Department of the Senate in March 1992, the shortcomings of the procedure remained apparent when the Minister for Finance declined to vary his modification of the Committee’s determination. Discussions in Estimates Committee F reiterated as a possible solution the earlier involvement of the government in the process of determining the Department’s estimates:
... the way to make it work as it was intended to work is for the minister representing the Leader of the Government on the appropriations and staffing committee to be briefed and prepared at the stage of the committee’s determination to put the government’s view and to influence the committee’s determination at that stage.
Now as the Senate resolution recognises, there may still be difficulties after that if the government still has a particular difficulty with the determination of the committee. That is when that set of negotiations can come into play in accordance with the resolution. But with that situation the negotiations should be able to proceed immediately. There should be no long delay between the determination of the committee and the response of the Minister for Finance.
In its 22nd report, on the appropriations for the Senate for 1995-96 in May 1995, the committee revealed that the appropriations for the Department of the Senate determined by the committee had again been reduced by the Minister for Finance before inclusion in the appropriation bill as introduced into the House of Representatives, without the consultation required by successive resolutions of the Senate.  On this occasion, however, the reductions in the amounts were not minor as in the past but significant, as part of the government’s efforts to reduce public expenditure. The committee reported that it would be pursuing the matter of appropriate funding for Senate committees, which were to receive most of the funds left out of the bill by the minister.
In 1996 the Appropriations and Staffing Committee reported that, in determining the Senate’s appropriations for 1996-97, it had accepted requests by the government to make general reductions in expenditure, but had not accepted a repudiation by the Department of Finance of an agreement which had been arrived at in the previous year concerning committee funding. The committee reported that, after further negotiations between the committee and the Minister for Finance, an agreement had been reached whereby further funds were provided for the purposes of Senate committees.
Agreement between the committee and the Minister for Finance on a method for calculating funding for select committees, and changes in government budgeting methods generally, have usually avoided disagreements in recent years but the old problems resurfaced in 2011 when the government agreed to only one of three new policy proposals endorsed by the committee but provided no response to the President or the committee.
In its 40th report in May 2004 the committee reported that the government had attempted to cut the funding of the Senate Department to pay for increased security expenditure, although it had previously claimed that that expenditure would be covered by savings from amalgamation of other departments. The committee recommended a rearrangement of funding, subsequently adopted by the Senate, so that the cuts would fall on the other departments. This also had the effect of saving the House of Representatives Department from the cuts. The committee also recommended measures to ensure oversight by the Senate of the security system. The Senate adopted these proposals.
The committee has a mandate to inquire into proposals to vary the staffing structure of the Senate as well as “such other matters as are referred to it by the Senate”. In 1987, a review of the administration of Parliament was undertaken in preparation for the move to the new and permanent Parliament House in 1988. In this context, Senator Georges moved the following motion, agreed to by the Senate on 3 June 1987:
That the Senate declares that no changes in the structure or responsibilities of the Parliamentary Departments should be made until —
- particulars of proposed changes have been provided to all Senators;
- the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing has examined the proposed changes and reported to the Senate; and
- the Senate has approved of the changes.
Upon his re-election to the Presidency on 14 September 1987, Senator Sibraa affirmed his commitment to this course of action.
The committee also oversees the funding and administration of security arrangements affecting the Senate, under an amendment of the standing order in 2004.