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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 13 - Financial legislation

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Parliamentary appropriations

The annual and additional appropriations for the Senate department and the other parliamentary departments are contained in bills which are separate from the appropriations for executive departments and agencies, and entitled Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bills.

During the debate leading up to the Compact of 1965, it was pointed out that appropriations for the two Houses of the Parliament should not be regarded as ordinary annual services of the government, or, indeed, services of the government. The services of the Houses were not ordinary annual services of the government nor services of the government as such, and it was therefore highly anomalous to have parliamentary appropriations contained in the two appropriation bills in this way.

Until 1982 appropriations for the services of the two Houses of the Parliament were contained in the appropriation bills for the services of the government, and were divided between the bill not amendable by the Senate, containing appropriations for the ordinary annual services of the government, and the amendable bill, containing other appropriations.

The Senate Select Committee on Parliament’s Appropriations and Staffing was appointed to consider issues relating to the control by the Houses of their own appropriations and staffing, and reported in 1981. One of the recommendations of the committee was that there be a separate parliamentary appropriations bill. This recommendation was adopted in 1982, and since that time a third annual appropriation bill has been introduced, the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill. As this bill is not for the ordinary annual services of the government it is amendable by the Senate.

The select committee also examined the issue of the control by the Houses of their own appropriations, and recommended the establishment of a standing committee with the responsibility of determining the appropriations for the Senate department for inclusion in the parliamentary appropriations bill. This recommendation was adopted by the Senate, and the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing is now established by standing order 19. The committee is given the task of determining the amounts for inclusion in the parliamentary appropriation bill for the Senate department. The committee accordingly considers draft estimates submitted to the President by the department and determines the amounts which should be appropriated by the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill for the Department.

The select committee also suggested amendment of sections 53 and 56 of the Constitution so that the parliamentary appropriation bill could be initiated in either House of the Parliament and passed without a recommendation of the Governor-General. Amendment of the Constitution being a significant and expensive step, this suggestion has not been followed, and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill is initiated in the House of Representatives and passed on a Governor-General’s recommendation as with other appropriation bills. This constitutional situation, in effect, gives the executive government control over the contents of the bill as introduced.

Following the establishment of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, there were some difficulties caused by governments making changes to the figures determined by the Appropriations and Staffing Committee for inclusion in the bill. It was envisaged by the 1981 select committee that the government, through its representation on the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, would submit to that committee any alterations the government considered desirable to the draft estimates. Instead, the government occasionally adopted the practice of examining the estimates as determined by the standing committee and making changes, albeit marginal changes, without further consultation with the committee. This situation was considered by Estimates Committee A in 1985, and, on the recommendation of that committee, the Senate passed a resolution setting down procedures to be followed for the determination of the appropriations for the Senate department. The relevant parts of the resolution are as follows:

  1. (b) 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;
  2. (c) 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 the Minister should consult with the President of the Senate with a view to obtaining the agreement of the Committee to any variation;
  3. (d) 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;
  4. (e) 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
  5. (f) 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.

Following the adoption of that resolution the Appropriations and Staffing Committee had occasion to complain of non-observance by the government of the procedures laid down in the resolution, and the Senate twice reaffirmed the resolution. In 1993 it was reported to the Senate and to Estimates Committee F that the Appropriations and Staffing Committee was pursuing with the government the question of compliance with the resolution. 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 avoided disagreements in recent years.

The system recommended by the 1981 select committee was not followed in respect of the determination of appropriations for other parliamentary departments. It was envisaged that an appropriations and staffing committee would also be established in the House of Representatives and would determine appropriations for that House, and that the two committees would meet as a joint committee to determine appropriations for the joint parliamentary departments, the departments (now one department) which provide services for both Houses. In 2010, under the terms of the agreements on parliamentary reform, the House of Representatives established an Appropriations and Administration Committee which now performs a similar function for the House. Appropriations for the joint parliamentary department are determined by the President and Speaker subject to veto by the government.