This is an introduction to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) - a committee of Members and Senators of the Australian Parliament. This page contains information about what the Committee is, what the Committee does and how you can involve yourself, or your organisation, in the work of the Committee.
History of the Joint Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Audit
The year 2013 marked 100 years since the first Commonwealth Public Accounts Committee was established. The Committee has had a significant impact on public administration in Australia during that time.
The Committee has played a role in developing more effective financial framework legislation, establishing a Senior Executive Service, introducing a Charter of Budget Honesty, and instituting a range of important oversight authorities.
The Committee’s membership has included three future Prime Ministers, nine future Treasurers or Finance Ministers, eleven future Speakers or Senate Presidents, four future opposition leaders and more than 90 future Government Ministers.
A recent paper on the evolving nature of the Committee’s oversight activities, presented to the Australasian Study of Parliament Group by a member of the Committee Secretariat, can be accessed here.
Some key historical facts related to the Committee are:
- The first Chair of the initial 1913 Public Accounts Committee was Mr Matthew Charlton MP
- The first Chair of the re-established 1951 Committee was Professor F.A. Bland MP
- The longest serving Chair was Professor F.A. Bland (1952 to 1960)
- The longest serving committee member was Senator John Watson (over 27 years between 1978 and 2008)
- The first female member of the Committee was Senator Ivy Wedgewood from 1955
- The first female Chair of the Committee was Ms Sharon Grierson MP from 2008
- As at November 2013, the Committee had presented 494 reports to the Parliament
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Duties and Powers of the JCPAA
The JCPAA owes its existence and authority to the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951 (the PAAC Act). The JCPAA is also one of the oldest committees in the Parliament, having first been established in 1913.
The purpose of the JCPAA is essentially to hold Commonwealth agencies to account for the lawfulness, efficiency and effectiveness with which they use public monies.
Section 8(1) of the PAAC Act describes the Committee's specific duties as being to:
(a) examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Commonwealth including the financial statements given to the Auditor-General under sub-sections 49(1) of section 55(2) of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997;
(b) examine the financial affairs of authorities of the Commonwealth to which the Act applies and of intergovernmental bodies to which this Act applies;
(c) examine all reports of the Auditor-General (including reports of the results of performance audits) that are tabled in each House of the Parliament;
(d) report to both Houses of the Parliament, with such comment as it thinks fit, on any items or matters in those accounts, statements and reports, or any circumstances connected with them, that the Committee thinks should be drawn to the attention of the Parliament;
(e) report to both Houses of the Parliament any alteration which the Committee thinks desirable in:
(i) the form of the public accounts or in the method of keeping them; or
(ii) the mode of receipt, control, issue or payment of public moneys;
(f) inquire into any question connected with the public accounts which is referred to the Committee by either House of the Parliament, and to report to that House upon that question;
(i) the operations of the Audit Office;
(ii) the resources of the Audit Office, including funding, staff and information technology; and
(iii) reports of the Independence Auditor on operations of the Audit Office;
(h) report to both Houses of the Parliament on any matter arising out of the Committee's consideration of the matters listed in paragraph (g), or on any other matter relating to the Auditor-General's functions and powers, that the Committee considers should be drawn to the attention of the Parliament;
(i) report to both Houses of the Parliament on the performance of the Audit Office at any time;
(j) consider draft estimates for the Audit Office submitted under section 53 of the Auditor-General Act 1997;
(k) consider the level of fees determined by the Auditor-General under subsection 16(1) of the Auditor-General Act 1997;
(l) make recommendations to both Houses of Parliament, and to the Minister who administers the Auditor-General Act 1997, on draft estimates referred to in paragraph (j);
(m) determine the audit priorities of the Parliament and to advise the Auditor-General of those priorities;
(n) determine the audit priorities of the Parliament for audits of the Audit Office and to advise the Independent Auditor of those priorities; and
(o) any other duties given to the Committee by this Act, by any other law or by Joint Standing Orders approved by both Houses of the Parliament.
In addition, the Auditor-General Act 1997 and Section 8A of the PAAC Act jointly provide that the Committee must approve or reject any nomination to fill the positions of Auditor-General and Independent Auditor (a person appointed on a part-time basis from the private sector to serve as external auditor to the ANAO). This power, and the Auditor-General’s status under his/her Act as an Independent Officer of the Parliament, reflect the fact that the Auditor-General’s primary client is the Parliament rather than the executive.
In 2011, Parliament approved a range of amendments to the Auditor-General Act 1997. These included Section 18B of the Act, providing that where a Commonwealth partner is, is part of, or is controlled by the government of a state or territory, a performance audit may be conducted at the request of the responsible minister or the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit. Media release (30KB)
The JCPAA has a similar oversight role in relation to the PBO as it does with the ANAO. As with the ANAO, the JCPAA cannot direct the activities of the Parliamentary Budget Office.
Section 64 of the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 (see Appendix B) outlines the Committees role and duties in regard to the PBO as to:
- Consider nominations of appointment of the Parliamentary Budget Officer
- Consider the PBO’s annual work plan
- Consider the funding, operations and resources of the Parliamentary Budget Office, including their draft estimates
- To draw to the attention of Parliament any other significant matters
- Consider initiating reviews of the PBO following elections.
The Committee is also responsible for approving annual report guidelines for Commonwealth departments on behalf of the Parliament. This responsibility is conferred by sub-section 63(2) of the Public Service Act 1999.
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Membership of the Committee
The PAAC Act provides that a Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit will be appointed at the beginning of each Parliament, and that the Committee shall have 16 members, six of whom shall be appointed by the Senate and ten of whom shall be appointed by the House of Representatives.
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How the Committee works
Sources of Inquiries
The Committee has the capacity to determine its own work program and priorities. This power is derived from section 8 of the PAAC Act above. The ability to consider and report on any circumstances connected with reports of the Auditor-General or with the financial accounts and statements of Commonwealth is one of the main sources of the JCPAA's authority. This power is unique among parliamentary committees and gives the JCPAA a significant degree of independence from the Executive arm of government.
Conduct of Inquiries
Although the Committee holds regular private meetings, it generally conducts its inquiries in public. At the outset of an inquiry, once the terms of reference are settled, the Committee usually advertises its inquiry in the national press. The advertisements call for written submissions from interested individuals and organisations. The Committee also seeks information and comment from people with an expert knowledge of the issues under review.
Further evidence is gathered from inspections, public hearings or as a result of questionnaires prepared by the Committee. The Committee is assisted by a full time secretariat, and on occasion by observers and secondees from the Australian National Audit Office and the Department of Finance and Deregulation. The Committee can also employ consultants to provide advice on particular issues.
The Committee's reports are tabled in both House of Parliament and copies are distributed to all Ministers and Commonwealth agencies with an interest in the subject of the report.
Copies of the report are also sent to witnesses, those who have made submissions and others with an interest in the work of the Committee.
Responses to Reports
Government responses to reports of the Committee can be transmitted in two ways; either by means of an Executive Minute (in those cases where the Committee's recommendations address administrative matters) or by means of a Government response (where the Committee has had policy recommendations).
The Executive Minute process (formerly Finance Minute) has been in place since 1952. The process involves the preparation of a minute to the Committee by the Secretary of the relevant agency under scrutiny.The minute contains a response from each relevant Commonwealth agency to each of the Committee's recommendations.
An Executive Minute is usually received by the Committee within six months of the tabling of a report. It is the Committee's practice to authorise publication of Executive Minutes on its website as soon as practicable after they are received. The Committee also regularly tables in Parliament a compendium of the Executive Minutes it has received.
The receipt and tabling of Executive Minutes gives the Committee an opportunity to comment on the departmental responses. Ultimately, if the Committee is dissatisfied with the contents of a particular Executive Minute, it may decide to re-open its inquiry.
Where the Committee makes recommendations of a policy nature, a separate Government response is prepared by the responsible Minister. It is usual practice for the relevant Minister to table a Government response in the Parliament.
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The page has been created by the JCPAA secretariat - if you have any questions about the Committee, or suggestions for information which could be posted on the home page, please contact the Committee Secretary on phone 61 2 6277 4615, facsimile 61 2 6277 2220 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Committee has been known by the following names:
- 1998 - Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
- 1915 - 1997 Joint Committee of Public Accounts
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