Parliament, and scrutiny and accountability agencies

Budget Review 2021–22 Index

Philip Hamilton

The following Budget measures relate to Parliament, and offices and agencies that scrutinise the actions of other government agencies.


In March 2021 the Government announced that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, would lead an Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces that will report by November 2021. The Budget provides $3.5 million for the Review over two years from 2020–21 (p. 77). The same Budget measure also allocates to the Department of Finance in 2021–22 funds for ‘additional support for parliamentary staff and Parliamentarians, including work health and safety training, counselling and other support services’ (the amount not for publication ‘due to commercial sensitivities).

There will be small staffing increases at each of the four parliamentary departments (p. 159). In addition, the Department of the Senate will receive $2.0 million in 2021–22 to ‘support increased Parliamentary committee activity’ (p. 171), thereby extending a similar measure in the 2020–21 Budget (p. 145). In October 2020 the Senate’s Procedural Information Bulletin number 347 had noted the achievement of a record number of 12 concurrent select committees supported by the Senate’s Committee Office (p. 3).

Located in the state and Northern Territory capital cities, Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices (CPOs) facilitate the conduct of parliamentary business outside Canberra. The Department of Finance will receive $13.9 million over four years from 2021–22 for ‘capital works and increased operational support to progress security and capability enhancements’ at CPOs, with a further commitment of $1.2 million per year ongoing from 2025–26—that is, subsequent to the Budget’s three-year forward estimates period (p. 95).


In last year’s Budget the 2020–21 Portfolio Budget Statements indicated that resourcing for the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) had reduced by $14.0 million from 2019–20, but the Treasurer did not agree with this interpretation. The current Budget provides the ANAO with additional funding of $61.5 million over four years from 2021–22 to ‘address rising costs due to more complex financial data and records management arrangements, new audit controls relating to COVID-19 measures’ and enhanced cyber security (p. 172).

Resourcing arrangements for the ANAO are included in the scope of a review of the Auditor-General Act 1997 announced in September 2020, in accordance with section 8 of the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951. By convention, in every third Parliament the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit reviews the Auditor-General Act 1997;  the last review was tabled ten years ago (December 2010) in the 42nd Parliament.

Freedom of Information Commissioner

The inaugural Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioner resigned in January 2015 and was not replaced. Since September 2015 the Australian Information Commissioner has performed the duties of three statutory roles (Information Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner and FOI Commissioner).

The Budget allocates $3.9 million over four years from 2021–22 for the appointment of a Freedom of Information (FOI) Commissioner (p. 63). It would appear that Ms Angelene Falk will continue to perform the duties of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner. Ms Falk’s three-year term will conclude on 15 August 2021.

A key responsibility of the FOI Commissioner is to review agencies’ decisions on FOI requests. A recent media report stated that ‘independent senator, Rex Patrick, had lobbied for the appointment, in part due to the large backlog in handling FOI reviews’.

Oversight of the use of surveillance, data access and interception powers

Using funding redirected from the Department of Home Affairs, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will be provided with $4.0 million over four years from 2021–22 (and $1.1 million per year ongoing) to ‘support oversight of the use of surveillance, data access and interception powers under the Telecommunications and other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 and the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 currently before Parliament’ (p. 132).

Commonwealth Integrity Commission

In December 2018 the Government announced that it would establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC). However, although there is support across the political spectrum for an integrity commission, there is disagreement about the scope and form it should take. In April 2019, the Parliamentary Library outlined models and costings proposed at that time, noting some key points of difference.

The 2019–20 Budget included staffing of 39 positions (p. 170) for a CIC (and funding of $104.5 million over four years from 2019–20) (pp. 50–51), and the 2020–21 Budget included 76 positions (p. 162). However, noting that ‘legislation to establish the entity has not yet passed the Parliament’, the Budget reports zero staff in 2021–22 (p. 158).

The Attorney-General’s Department invited submissions on draft legislation by 12 February 2021. Many submissions have been critical of the draft legislation, including that of Anne Twomey, a professor of constitutional law.