Chapter 1 The JCPAA’s role and functions
The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) is a committee
of the Commonwealth Parliament, and is established pursuant to the Public
Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951 (PAAC Act).
The PAAC Act provides for the Committee to be appointed at the beginning of
each Parliament, with a total of 16 members—six to be appointed by the Senate
and ten to be appointed by the House of Representatives. In the past the
Committee Chair has been a Government member with a member of the Opposition as
Following the 2010 Federal Election, the ‘Agreement for a Better
Parliament–Parliamentary Reform’, stipulated a change to the previous model,
with the Chair of the Committee to be drawn from a ‘member of a non-Government
party or a non-aligned Member’. Consequently, the Chairman
of the JCPAA for the 43rd Parliament is an Independent Member of the
Parliament, and the Deputy Chair a member of the Government.
Procedures and powers
Public accounts committees are generally tasked with the ‘oversight, scrutiny
and control of public funds’. Committees such as the
JCPAA perform a key role within a parliamentary democracy of calling upon
organisations to account for their performance, in particular their use of
public monies. This is reflected in the Committee’s main responsibilities and
activities, which are outlined in more detail in the following section.
The JCPAA is one of only seven statutory committees. The Act essentially
provides the Committee with the power to set its own work program and determine
its work priorities within the Act’s overall mandate. The Committee may report
to the Parliament with any comment it thinks fit, on any items or matters
concerning the financial accounts and affairs of Commonwealth authorities, any
report of the Auditor-General tabled in Parliament, or, any circumstances
connected with either. This power is unique among parliamentary committees and
provides the JCPAA with a considerable degree of autonomy from executive
In general terms, the duties of the Committee are to:
n examine the financial
affairs of authorities of the Commonwealth;
n examine all reports
of the Auditor-General that are tabled in the Parliament;
n consider the
operation and resources of the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO);
n approve or reject any
nomination for appointment of any person to the office of the Auditor-General
or Independent Auditor of the ANAO; and
parliamentary and public awareness of the financial and related operations of
Additionally, the Committee may perform additional duties in 2011‑12
regarding the proposed Parliamentary Budget Office. On behalf of the
Parliament, the Committee may be responsible for the oversight of the
Parliamentary Budget Officer and their office in regard to the ‘annual work
program, draft budget estimates, and annual report’.
The following section provides more detail on the Committee’s specific
roles and functions.
The work and operation of the Auditor-General and the ANAO
Review of the Auditor-General’s reports
The Committee is responsible for examining all of the Auditor-General’s
reports on behalf of the Parliament. This process is supported by regular
private briefings from ANAO officers to the Committee on the findings of tabled
Following these briefings, the Committee selects audit reports it wishes
to review in more detail through conducting an inquiry. Typically, the
Committee selects reports where: the ANAO has been largely critical of an
agency; the agency audited has a history of performance issues; there may be a
high financial or safety risk to the community; or the Committee is the clear
candidate to conduct a parliamentary review.
Public hearings are then conducted into the selected reports with witnesses
present from both the audited agency and the ANAO. The hearings are guided by
the findings of the audit report, with the Committee focused on determining how
particular deficiencies or issues arose, and what actions the agency is
undertaking to rectify the shortcomings identified in the audit, in particular
implementing the ANAO’s recommendations.
The Committee periodically tables reports in Parliament on its reviews of
Auditor-General’s reports. The Committee’s reports incorporate the evidence
taken during public hearings and may also include recommendations by the
Committee in addition to those already presented by the Auditor-General. Unlike
the ANAO, the Committee is able to direct recommendations at Government policy,
and at times the Committee can use the ANAO’s recommendations to draw
conclusions regarding broader Government administration.
Other committees are also able to review ANAO reports that are relevant
to their area and portfolio coverage.
Annual hearing on the “Major Projects Report”
During the course of an inquiry into Defence financial reporting and
equipment acquisition, the Committee in the 41st Parliament
recommended that the ANAO be funded to produce an annual report on progress in
major Defence acquisition projects (based on a similar process in the United
Kingdom). The development of such a
report had also been previously requested by the Senate based on
recommendations of its Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee.
One of the major drivers for the production of this annual report was
that it would facilitate improved transparency and accountability around major
acquisition projects. The parameters of the “Major Projects Report” (MPR) would
enable both the ANAO and the Parliament to review and scrutinise major Defence
projects that were in progress, and gain a broader perspective on equipment
acquisition performance than was currently available.
The Committee was also of the view that continuous monitoring through this review
would help promote cultural change in the management of Defence projects.
A total of three MPRs have been released. These reports generally
consist of the ANAO’s assurance review of the selected Defence major
acquisition projects as well as the Defence Materiel Organisation’s commentary
and analysis on the major projects. The Committee has held a public hearing on
each of the published reports and has completed reports reviewing two of the
Advise the Auditor-General on the Parliament’s audit priorities
While the Auditor-General is given the authority to autonomously
determine the work program undertaken by the ANAO,
the Committee is responsible for determining and advising the Auditor-General
of the Parliament’s audit priorities. This activity represents the Parliament’s
engagement with the development of scrutiny strategies. Through this process
the Parliament directly presents its views, on areas of public administration
it is interested in seeing examined, to the Auditor-General.
As part of the identification of the Parliament’s priorities, the JCPAA
seeks input from all other parliamentary committees, asking advice on any
programs or functions within their portfolio they believe should be audited.
The Committee first ensures that the suggested topics are appropriate (for
example that the ANAO is not being asked to comment on the merits of Government
policy) and then collates these suggestions along with other areas it wishes to
identify. This list is referred to the Auditor-General for consideration in the
finalisation of the ANAO’s work program for the proceeding financial year.
Review the annual budget of the ANAO
Under the PAAC Act the Committee is required to consider ‘draft
estimates’ for the ANAO and the level of fees determined by the Auditor‑General.
In support of this process, the ANAO usually provides a series of briefings to
the Committee. With the provision of this information, the Committee is able to
make formal representations to the Government on behalf of the ANAO if
In the first instance, the Committee typically corresponds with the Special
Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity on the draft estimates.
This is followed by the Committee making a statement to both Houses of
Parliament on budget day, expressing the Committee’s opinion as to whether the
ANAO has been given sufficient funding to perform its functions.
The intention of this process and the Committee’s power in considering
the draft estimates for the ANAO is to dissuade governments from attempting to
influence the Auditor-General through unjustified restrictions to the ANAO’s
Responsibilities and powers for the appointment of the Auditor-General or
The JCPAA plays an important role in the appointment of a new Auditor‑General.
While the Special Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity is
responsible for nominating and recommending to the Governor-General a new
Auditor-General, this proposal must first be approved by the Committee on
behalf of the Parliament.
The Committee is given 14 days within receipt of the nomination to
either: approve or reject the nomination by absolute majority; or seek an
extension of time of 30 days. If a decision is not reached within this period,
the PAAC Act provides that it will therefore be taken as an approval of the
Similarly, the Committee also approves or rejects any nomination for the
position of the Independent Auditor of the ANAO. The Independent Auditor is
appointed from the private sector on a part-time basis to serve as an external
auditor to the ANAO. The Independent Auditor is tasked with auditing the ANAO’s
financial statements and periodically conducts performance audits of the ANAO
following consultation with the Committee.
Conducting policy inquiries
The Committee also on occasion, exercises its power to undertake policy
inquiries. These inquiries may arise either from findings of the Auditor‑General
or at the initiative of the Committee.
Over the last four parliaments, the JCPAA has undertaken 13 major
inquiries—with just over half initiated by the Committee, five commenced due to
findings of ANAO reports, and one commenced following a proposal by the then
Minister for Finance and Administration.
Biannual hearings – Commissioner of Taxation
In the 41st Parliament, the Committee initiated an inquiry
into numerous taxation matters. During the course of the inquiry the
Commissioner of Taxation agreed to appear before the Committee at two public
hearings each year to update the Parliament and public on recent developments
in tax administration.
Since these hearings were initiated, eight have been held. These public
hearings are typically preceded by private briefings from tax law academics and
While previous hearings increased scrutiny of the administration of the
Australian Taxation Office (ATO), in 2011, the Committee considered that public
scrutiny would be better served if a Committee report was produced from these
proceedings. Accordingly, a report was tabled in the Parliament in July 2011.
This report is discussed further in Chapter 2.
Annual report requirements for Commonwealth agencies
Annual reports of Commonwealth departments are an important
accountability tool, particularly to the Parliament. Primarily, annual reports
outline departments’ performance in relation to services provided and are
required to be prepared in accordance with the detailed Requirements for
Annual Reports. The Requirements state that among other things, annual
reports should provide, ‘...sufficient information and analysis for the
Parliament to make a fully informed judgement on departmental performance’.
The draft Requirements are prepared by the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet and prior to publication, the JCPAA is responsible for
their approval. This document is updated annually to reflect changes to
reporting requirements which may have occurred in areas such as legislation,
policies, or recommendations from the ANAO.
Responses to JCPAA reports
The JCPAA’s reports can include both ‘policy recommendations’ and/or
‘administrative recommendations’. While administrative recommendations
can be implemented and decided on by the relevant affected agencies, policy
recommendations may have direct implications to existing Government policy and
necessitate the Minister or Cabinet to respond.
Administrative responses are addressed by way of an Executive Minute,
and are expected to be provided by the responsible Minister to the Chair of the
JCPAA within six months of the report being tabled. Policy recommendations are
addressed by way of a separate Government response from the responsible
Minister(s) to the Chair of the JCPAA. The Government has also given a
commitment for these responses to be provided within six months of the date of a
Engagement with other public accounts committees
Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees (ACPAC)
The JCPAA is a member of the Australasian Council of Public Accounts
Committees (ACPAC). ACPAC is the governing body which oversees the arrangements
for the biennial conference of Public Accounts Committees (PACs) and like
committees in the Australian states and territories, New Zealand, Papua New
Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
ACPAC’s biennial conferences are an opportunity to exchange knowledge
and share experiences between the different jurisdictions. The last biennial
conference was held in Perth, Western Australia in April 2011 and was the 11th
Biennial Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees Conference. Representations
from the Committee included the Deputy Chair and the Committee Secretary.