As the accountable authority of the Department of the Senate, I present the department’s annual performance statements for 2019–20, as required by subsection 39(1) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. In my view, these statements are based on properly maintained records, accurately reflect the department’s performance and comply with subsection 39(2) of that Act.
Clerk of the Senate
1 October 2020
Performance reporting framework
In 2019–20, the department successfully achieved its purpose of facilitating all meetings required under decisions of the Senate and its committees, acknowledging the disruption to those meetings at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, the department provided comprehensive, timely and high-quality support to senators, the Senate and committees, as well as prompt and accurate procedural advice and legislative support.
Throughout the year the department also:
- published a range of materials on the role and work of the Senate and the Parliament, and delivered effective education and information programs
- managed its staff in accordance with its enterprise agreement, provided learning and development opportunities, and managed the department’s response to the pandemic to maintain the department’s capabilities, and
- delivered its services in a cost-effective manner and in accordance with accountability requirements.
At the end of the reporting period, the department provided advice and assisted the Senate with practical and procedural adjustments during the pandemic.
Several of the adjustments implemented in response to the pandemic required close cooperation between the parliamentary departments. More broadly, the department continued to work with the other parliamentary departments to deliver its services, to improve support for the Parliament and the work of its members and to enhance the strategic direction of the parliamentary service. Other collaborative work during this reporting period included the opening of the 46th Parliament, a number of joint ICT projects such as an upgrade of the APH website and continued implementation of the Australian Parliament Digital Strategy 2019–2022.
The department’s financial result of the year was a deficit of $0.055m (excluding depreciation and loss on disposal of assets). This result reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a reduction in large expenditure items such as staff travel to support committees. Without this downturn in activity in the last quarter, the department would have been significantly overspent against current resourcing levels. A return to typical levels of travel and the trend of increasing demand on the Committee Office will necessitate additional resources to sustain the department’s services and activities into the future. In this regard, the department welcomes the recognition of this through the one-off funding supplementation it received in the October 2020 budget. An analysis of the department’s financial performance and the financial statements commence at page 81.
These annual performance statements record the department’s results against the planned performance table in figure 2 (below), which is derived from its Corporate Plan 2019–20 and Portfolio Budget Statements 2019–20. They are based on records of services provided by the department, feedback recorded by departmental staff and comments made by relevant groups and committees.
In summary, this data shows both a high level of demand for the department’s services and advice, and very high levels of satisfaction with what is provided. The Senate’s requirements at the beginning of the 46th Parliament continued to be driven by the large crossbench and continued elevated levels of committee and legislative activity. Factors influencing demand are analysed further below.
Before addressing the department’s performance in detail, an innovation in this year’s report is a case study (see figure 3 below) intended to illustrate the kinds of support the department provides to the Senate, its committees and senators.
Figure 2 – Planned performance
In planning terms, the department’s purpose is expressed as a single outcome – provide advisory and administrative support services to enable the Senate and senators to fulfil their representative duties and exercise the legislative power of the Commonwealth.
These services are delivered through a single program.
Advice and support – Secretariat support for the Senate and its committees, and advice and support to enable senators and others to participate in their meetings.
The department’s outcome is delivered under a single program, comprising services and activities in the following areas:
- Advice about Senate and committee proceedings
- Secretariat support for the Senate
- Secretariat support for committees
- Administrative advice and support for senators
- Public information and parliamentary education, and
- Capability, governance and accountability.
Senators (and others) have the advice and support they require to participate in meetings of the Senate and its committees.
The department’s activities enable the Senate and its committees to meet in accordance with their decisions.
Senators are satisfied with the administrative advice and support they receive from the department.
Public information about the work and role of the Senate and its committees and parliamentary education programs are current and accessible to all.
Figure 3 – Case study infographic – Sitting of 10 to 12 June
Case study narrative – Sitting of 10 to 12 June
Program managers agreed in May to proceed with a case study on the sitting of 10 to 12 June 2020 – this week was chosen because the second last sitting week in June is generally a typical week in terms of the volume and type of legislative and procedural support provided by the department. It proved to be so. However, it was an unusual sitting week as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting meetings of the Senate during the pandemic required the department to quickly identify procedural and practical options for the Senate to adapt its proceedings to these unprecedented circumstances. For example, the department implemented several measures to support the Senate meeting safely in these circumstances including arranging additional seating and speaking points in the Senate to accommodate social distancing requirements.
Figure 3 indicates the key activity that occurred during this case study.
The department prepared a range of documents and provided written and oral advice to support senators performing their roles during a meeting of the Senate. Documents prepared for each sitting day included:
- the Notice Paper and Order of Business (the matters on the Senate’s agenda)
- procedural scripts to support senators chairing the Senate and those who are participating in the proceedings (for example by introducing legislation or proposing that the Senate refer a matter to a committee for inquiry), and
- the Journals and the Senate Daily Summary (which record the decisions of the Senate including any legislation agreed to, amended or rejected).
A higher than normal number of “notices of motion” given and determined in the Senate during the week added to the volume and complexity of each of these tasks.
An important aspect of supporting the Senate was providing live tracking of the meeting (the Dynamic Red) so that senators and their staff, ministerial offices, departments providing support to ministers, the media and the general public could follow the proceedings. Similarly, advice provided by the clerks in the Senate was provided at short notice, and sometimes instantaneously, to support the President and senators acting as chairs in the Senate to apply the rules of the Senate consistently.
This advice also assisted senators to utilise the procedural mechanisms available to them to inquire into issues (particularly to support their role in holding the government accountable for its administration of policies and programs), to debate issues of concern to the people they represent and to propose changes to government bills or their own legislation. For example, the department provided support to senators by drafting and publishing 31 amendments for non-government senators and supporting the introduction of three bills by Opposition and minor party senators. The bills related to diverse topics: electoral representation for the Northern Territory, financial transparency of aged care providers and economic support relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department provides secretariat support to three legislative scrutiny committees which examine bills and legislative instruments from the perspective of their compatibility with the protection of individual rights, principles of parliamentary oversight, the rule of law and human rights. Legislative scrutiny of bills and instruments supports senators in several ways: it may highlight issues with a bill and form the basis of a non-government senator’s instructions for amendments, or it may identify concerns in relation to a legislative instrument which lead to a senator lodging a proposal that the Senate disallow (or veto) the instrument. The verbal and written advice provided by Senate officers during the week included advice about whether instruments were subject to disallowance and the effect of disallowing particular instruments. During the week, senators debated, and ultimately rejected, a proposal to disallow government rules which limited the eligibility of universities for the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
Senate standing and select committees were supporting 47 inquiries at the commencement of the week: the tasks involved in providing secretariat support to those committees are detailed at page 18. Those committees did not table any reports during the week. The department also provided secretariat support to an all-party committee, the Selection of Bills Committee, which meets every sitting week to recommend whether bills should be referred to committees for detailed consideration. On 12 June, the Senate accepted its recommendation for three new inquiries into government bills. Departmental staff supported these committees to advertise the inquiries, identify potential submitters, and suggest a proposed approach to the inquiry including a timetable to meet the reporting deadlines set by the Senate.
The next part of the performance statements analyses the department’s performance in each of its key areas of service delivery and activity.
Advice about the operations of the Senate and its committees
Senators (and others) have the advice and support they require to participate in meetings of the Senate and its committees
One of the key outputs of the department is advice about the operations of the Senate and its committees. Much of this advice is given verbally and instantaneously by the Clerk and other senior officers in the Senate, and by committee secretaries and their staff during committee meetings. These officers also provide procedural advice to senators and their staff at other times, both verbally and in writing. Committee secretaries are supported in providing advice by the Clerk Assistant (Committees) and Senior Clerk of Committees, ensuring advice to committees is consistent and accurate.
Senators and other recipients of written advice continued to acknowledge its value, and advice was provided within agreed timeframes to meet the purposes for which it was sought. On occasion during the year, recipients of advice published it as a contribution to public debate, at the same time subjecting it to public scrutiny. When committees seek the Clerk’s advice it is almost always for the purpose of publishing it, to show the basis on which committees may have taken particular decisions or reached particular conclusions. No committee expressed dissatisfaction with advice received.
Advice about the programming of business in the Senate is the responsibility of the Clerk Assistant (Table), as is the provision of advice and support to government Senate office holders. Procedural advice and support for non-government senators is a particular responsibility of the Deputy Clerk and the Clerk Assistant (Procedure). Senators continued to acknowledge the value of their advice. The Procedure Office drafted large numbers of legislative amendments and private senators’ bills, helping senators participate in legislative proceedings. Amendments and bills accurately reflected the drafting instructions and were prepared within required timeframes and to the satisfaction of senators.
Advice provided by the department was also tested during estimates hearings and in other Senate proceedings and senators relied on such advice throughout the year. In addition to comments made by senators recorded in Hansard, feedback from senators obtained through two formal surveys regarding services provided by the Table Office and the Procedure Office, indicated high levels of satisfaction with both advice and the levels of administrative support provided.
Procedural briefings among senior officers and the publication and dissemination of procedural resources assisted in maintaining the capacity of officers to provide advice and support.
Secretariat support for the Senate and its committees
The department’s activities enable the Senate and its committees to meet in accordance with their decisions
This outcome has been met during 2019–20 through two program components.
1. Secretariat support for the Senate
The department provided secretariat support for the Senate on each of its 58 sitting days.
During the sittings the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk and senior officers provided advice in the Senate to the President, Deputy President and other occupants of the chair, as well as to other senators and their staff. The Table Office and the Procedure Office provided procedural scripts and advice to assist senators participating in proceedings. Feedback from senators and their staff acknowledged the value and accuracy of this advice and support.
The Black Rod’s Office provided formal and ceremonial support for sittings, including the swearing in of three new senators who filled casual vacancies during the year.
The Table Office and Senate Public Information Office (SPIO) published the Senate’s formal records and informal guides to its work. These resources were accurate and timely, and produced to meet the needs of senators and Senate deadlines. Documents supporting the Senate’s legislative work were also uniformly accurate and timely. Documents received for tabling were processed, recorded in procedural documents and archived. Increasingly, documents and business information are published online, enhancing the ability of senators and others to follow and participate in Senate proceedings, and further improvements to digital publishing processes and online measures were implemented during the reporting period.
2. Secretariat support for committees
The department provided secretariat support for all committee meetings required under decisions of the Senate and of committees themselves, including those joint committees to which the department provides support. This support was primarily provided by the Committee Office, although the Clerk’s Office, Table Office and Procedure Office also supported a number of standing committees.
Secretariat support for committees encompasses:
- procedural advice for the chair and other members, including advice and support to new senators
- logistical support for meetings (including interstate hearings) and site visits
- preparation of meeting documents, including minutes and agenda
- managing and publishing submissions, and organising witnesses
- research, analysis of evidence and briefings to members, and
- preparation of draft reports, and their finalisation for tabling.
The Committee Office experienced another sustained period of very high workload. The office supported 16 legislation and references committees, nine Senate select committees, two joint select committees and five other joint committees, undertaking between them, at one point, 74 separate inquiries. Secretariat staff in the Committee Office processed more than 7,300 submissions, arranged 225 public hearings (which heard from over 4,300 witnesses) and 545 private meetings. The Senate made 133 references during the year and the office assisted in drafting 106 reports.
Advice, documentation and draft reports were consistently provided to committees in accordance with their requirements. Reports were drafted and presented to the Senate in accordance with the timeframes set by committees and by the Senate.
Secretariat staff work closely with senators in supporting committees and, in particular, work closely with the chair to prepare draft reports. This provides an ongoing opportunity for direct feedback about senators’ satisfaction. Despite the considerable workload, this direct feedback continued to indicate high levels of satisfaction.
Senators referring to committee reports during debates in the Senate also indicated their high levels of satisfaction with the support provided by secretariat staff.
Administrative advice and support for senators
Senators are satisfied with the administrative advice and support they receive from the department
The department, principally through the Black Rod’s Office, provides support services to the Senate, to Senate committees and to senators at Parliament House. These services include preparing and supporting the Senate chamber for each sitting day, general office support, asset management, maintenance of equipment and furniture, and stationery services. The office also paid senators’ salaries and allowances as required, organised office accommodation within the Senate wing and provided other services such as arranging transport and delivery services.
The Usher of the Black Rod provided security advice and support to the President, committees, senators and the department. The Usher of the Black Rod and Deputy Usher of the Black Rod also worked with colleagues in the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) Security Branch and the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, and with the Australian Federal Police, providing the Senate’s perspective on security matters.
The office made arrangements for the commencement of new senators’ terms on 1 July 2019, including office accommodation movements and payroll activities. The office was instrumental in two major formal events; the swearing in of the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) on 1 July 2019 and the opening of the 46th Parliament on 2 July 2019. These events were the culmination of a significant amount of work for the office in coordinating stakeholders, inviting and ushering guests, managing security arrangements and logistics on the day. Informal feedback received from senators and other stakeholders with regard to the preparation and execution of these arrangements was very positive. The office also made arrangements for the Senate’s Address-in-Reply to be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General on 19 September 2019.
A significant focus of the office in the fourth quarter of 2019–20 was the COVID-19 pandemic. This required measures to be put in place to reduce the risk of transmission while enabling the essential work of the Senate to proceed. The configuration of the Senate chamber was changed to allow for social distancing and the delivery of services to senators in the chamber was also adjusted to reduce the risk of transmission. Work from home arrangements were rapidly put in place for departmental staff to reduce the number of staff in the building and reduce the likelihood of transmission within the building. The department’s response to the pandemic required significant coordination between the parliamentary departments and with Commonwealth Government central agencies, such as the Australian Public Service Commission.
Services were delivered within established timeframes and met relevant legislative requirements. This aspect of the department’s work involves regular and direct contact with Senate office holders, senators and their staff, and other stakeholders, all of whom provided regular informal feedback which was generally positive. Positive comments were also recorded in Hansard about the quality of the support for senators provided by the office and the department.
Public information and parliamentary education
Public information about the work and role of the Senate and its committees and parliamentary education programs are current and accessible to all
The department continued its public information programs this reporting period including delivering 14 seminars, 13 training programs for senators and their staff, and five public lectures as well as publishing material on the role of the Senate and its committees. The formal and informal feedback regarding these services indicated that the programs effectively met their objectives. These programs were reduced in the fourth quarter of 2019–20 due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through the Parliamentary Education Office (PEO), the department also delivered a comprehensive education program to students visiting Parliament House from more than 1,100 Australian schools, as well as an outreach program to students in Queensland and Tasmania. Attendance levels, requests for training and educational programs and feedback collected from these sessions indicated high levels of satisfaction among those accessing these services. The number of users of the PEO website remains steady and feedback indicates high levels of satisfaction with educational information and resources provided online. In response to the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, PEO scaled up its delivery of programs via videoconference, delivering sessions to over 3,000 students in this reporting period. This figure represents a 134 per cent increase on 2018–19 participation rates for programs delivered by videoconference.
Senate Public Information Office (SPIO) develops and publishes a range of public information resources to support the operation of the Senate, including on sitting days the Dynamic Red and Senate Daily Summary and, during estimates hearings, Estimates Live, and manages the department’s web presence and Twitter account @AuSenate. The office also collates statistics on Senate activity and in this reporting period completed a significant project to redesign the PEO website. These resources were provided on all sitting days, and accurate, reader-friendly public information resources were delivered within established timeframes.
Capability, governance and accountability
All identified accountability obligations to the Senate are met
Senate committees provide opportunities for senators and others to monitor the department’s performance. The department met its accountability obligations to the Senate during the year, particularly through its appearance before estimates hearings. The Clerk and other officers appeared at estimates hearings of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee during each round of Senate estimates and also provided responses to 84 estimates questions on notice, which were published on that committee’s web pages. These activities provide an important accountability mechanism by which senators may test advice provided by departmental officers and evaluate the department’s performance in a public forum. The Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee also has a specific role in relation to the department’s appropriations as well as matters concerning the department’s structure, staffing and ICT and security arrangements. Reports on the department’s financial performance were provided to the President of the Senate and the Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee, as was the annual report of the department’s Audit Committee. Regular reports on other departmental matters are also provided to the President.
The department reports against the performance indicators contained in its portfolio budget statements, tabled in the Senate in April 2019, and those in its Corporate Plan for 2019–20. Those indicators have two dimensions, comprising an assessment of the demand for the department’s services and an evaluation of the department’s performance in delivering those services.
Factors influencing demand
A constant in the department’s planning and reporting has been the recognition that much of the demand for its services shifts in line with levels of Senate legislative and committee activity. Demand is overwhelmingly driven by the requirements of senators, and the decisions and activities of the Senate and its committees. Each year, significant factors include:
- the political dynamics of the Senate
- the number of days and hours, and distribution, of its sittings
- the legislative workload of the Senate
- the number of committees on which senators serve, and
- the number and complexity of committee inquiries.
Each of these is in turn affected by the electoral cycle. 2019–20 was the first year of the 46th Parliament and the Senate’s large and diverse crossbench continued to affect the level of demand for advice, and the character of advice and support required.
Significant factors during this reporting period included the uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to scheduled sitting days and the need to facilitate sittings at short notice while adapting practices and procedures to comply with the health and safety constraints imposed by these unusual circumstances.
Following the opening of Parliament on 2 July 2019, the Senate sat on 58 days. High levels of committee activity resumed quickly, with nine Senate select and two joint select committees established within the first year of the 46th Parliament. This activity was funded from the department’s existing appropriation.
Performance in delivery services
Evaluation of the department’s performance is based upon the degree to which its services meet the requirements of the Senate and its committees, and senators, principally measured against criteria centred on:
accuracy—frequently assessed by considering whether advice or documents were demonstrated to be inaccurate
timeliness—particularly whether advice, documents or services were provided in time to meet the purpose for which they were sought
satisfaction of senators (including committees of senators) with the advice, documents or other services provided—the assessment of which is considered further below.
The particular criteria which apply are described in the department’s portfolio budget statements and in the performance summary tables for each office contained in this chapter.
Monitoring and assessing satisfaction
Much of the department’s work involves contact with senators and their staff, presenting the most direct means of eliciting (often informal) feedback about services and performance, and an avenue for addressing concerns as they are raised. During 2019–20, two formal surveys of senators and their staff obtained specific feedback regarding services provided by the Table Office and the Procedure Office. As noted throughout this report, direct feedback was very positive across all service areas during the year, particularly in relation to core advisory, drafting and secretariat support roles. Senators’ comments about the department and its staff, placed on the public record during Senate and committee proceedings, constitute another valuable source of performance information. These comments continued to be resoundingly positive during 2019–20. The department also monitors its performance through formal and informal channels, including letters, emails, phone calls, seminar evaluation forms and outputs from management information systems. Again these sources were positive. The direct accountability of the department to the Senate through its committees was noted, above, at page 22.
The department’s program managers have adopted a formal process for recording and providing feedback to the Clerk to provide assurance for his certification of the annual performance statements. These measures have been provided to the department’s Audit Committee, which has provided advice that the measures and these annual performance statements are appropriate.
The subsequent parts of this chapter report on the activities and performance of the department against the criteria contained in the departmental work plans.