Role of the Committee

Introduction

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.

Duties and Powers of the JCPAA

The legislative duties and powers of the JCPAA are contained within the following acts of parliament.

  • Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951
  • Auditor-General Act 1997
  • Parliamentary Service Act 1999
  • Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (the PGPA Act)

The Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951

The JCPAA owes its existence and authority to the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951 (the PAAC Act).

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 paragraphs 42(1)(b) and 48(1)(b) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013; and

(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;

(g) consider:

(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, Section 8A of the PAAC Act, jointly with the Auditor-General Act 1997, provides 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.

The Auditor-General Act 1997 

The Auditor-General Act 1997 also includes serveral sections relating to the JCPAA. In particular, in 2011, Parliament approved a range of amendments to the Auditor-General Act 1997 which included:

  1. Section 17, providing that the Auditor General may only conduct a performance audit on request by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit if the audit is of: a corporate Commonwealth entity that is a GBE, or of any of its subsidiaries; or a wholly owned Commonwealth company that is a GBE, or any of its subsidiaries.
  2. Section 18B  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.

The Parliamentary Service Act 1999 

The JCPAA has a similar oversight role in relation to the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) as it does with the ANAO.

Section 64 of the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 outlines the Committees role and duties in regard to the PBO as to:

As with the ANAO, the JCPAA cannot direct the activities of the PBO other than when initiating reviews of the PBO following elections.

The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (the PGPA Act)

The Committee reviews all rules under the PGPA Act before they are tabled in parliament, and has a specific role in approving any changes to the annual report rule for Commonwealth entities under Division 6 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.

Furthermore the Committee has an active general oversight role regarding this legislation, as its objectives are to:

The objects of this Act are:

(a) to establish a coherent system of governance and accountability across Commonwealth entities; and

(b) to establish a performance framework across Commonwealth entities; and

(c) to require the Commonwealth and Commonwealth entities:

     (i) to meet high standards of governance, performance and accountability; and

     (ii) to provide meaningful information to the Parliament and the public; and

     (iii) to use and manage public resources properly; and

     (iv) to work cooperatively with others to achieve common objectives, where practicable; and

(d) to require Commonwealth companies to meet high standards of governance, performance and accountability.

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.

Ministers are not eligible to be appointed to committees; however, members of the JCPAA often go on to become ministers later in their careers. 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.

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. This power is unique among parliamentary committees and gives the JCPAA a significant degree of independence from the Executive arm of government.

The JCPAA must also undertake inquiries referred to it from either house of parliament, such as inquiries into Bills under consideration. Unlike other committees, due to the PAAC Act, inquiry referrals can only come from either house of parliament but not a Minister.

Conduct of Inquiries

The conduct of JCPAA inquiries follows the general approach taken by all other committees of parliament. A useful introduction to committees and their inquiries can be found here.

Responses to Reports

Responses to recommendations within JCPAA reports are due within six months of the tabling date of the report.  

Reponses can be transmitted in one of the following ways:

  1. A Government respjonse tabled in parliament 
  2. by means of an Executive Minute 

Government Responses 

Where the Committee has made policy recommendations a Government response is prepared and tabled in the parliament by the responsible Minister. This process is similar to all other committees of parliament.  

Executive Minutes 

Where the Committee has made administrative recommendations an ‘Executive Minute’ response is prepared and delivered directly to the committee secretary by the responsible accountable authority (departmental secretary or chief executive).

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 later tables in parliament a compendium of the Executive Minutes 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.

The Executive Minute process (formerly Finance Minute) has been in place since 1952.

History of the Joint Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Audit

The JCPAA is also one of the oldest committees in the Parliament, having first been established in 1913. Over the last 100 years the Committee has had a significant impact on public administration in Australia.

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.

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 Committee has been known by the following names:

Further information

 

If you have any questions about the Committee, or suggestions for information which could be posted on the home page, please contact the Committee Secretariate on phone 61 2 6277 4615, facsimile 61 2 6277 2220 or e-mail jcpaa@aph.gov.au.

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