Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit: Oversight Role
The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA or the Committee) has legislatively prescribed oversight of various aspects of the administration and work of the:
Australian National Audit Office (ANAO);
Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO); and
The Committee also has a legislated self-referral inquiry power where it may report on any matter that Members believe …’should be drawn to the attention of the Parliament.’
Australian National Audit Office
According to the Public Accounts and Audit Act 1951 (PAAC Act), and the Auditor-General Act 1997 (AG Act), the role of the JCPAA is to:
Examine reports of the Auditor-General presented in the Parliament;
Consider the operations, and resources of the ANAO, including the draft budget of the Auditor-General;
Consider the reports of the ANAO’s Independent Auditor;
Assist the Auditor-General by consulting with parliamentary committees to determine the audit priorities of the Parliament; and
Consider nominations for the Auditor-General and Independent Auditor as vacancies arise.
In addition, since 2009, the JCPAA has conducted a review of an annually produced Auditor-General performance report, the Defence Major Projects Report (MPR), which examines defence-related acquisitions.
During 2019-20, the Committee commenced a review of the 2018-19 Defence MPR in addition to Auditor-General’s Report No. 22 (2019-20): Future Submarine Project – Transition to Design.
During the period, the Committee has, as part of its oversight responsibilities of the ANAO, conducted two consultations with parliamentary committees to assist the Auditor-General in finalising his Annual Audit Work Program 2020-21.
The parliamentary priorities of the first consultation were provided to the Auditor-General on 1 May 2020. Following this, the Auditor-General requested the Committee undertake a second consultation of the Parliament in respect to a revised annual audit work program which took into account recent issues relating to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and bushfires 2019-20. The parliamentary priorities of the second consultation were provided to the Auditor-General on 29 May 2020.
Parliamentary Budget Office
Since 2012, the Australian Parliament has been served by a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO). The Parliamentary Service Act 1999 prescribes the oversight role of the JCPAA in respect to the PBO, which is to:
Consider the PBO annual work plan, draft budget, and its operations and resources;
Endorse any proposal of appointment of the Parliamentary Budget Officer as vacancies arise; and
Consider the scope, and complete an independent review, of the PBO commissioned after a general election.
The JCPAA also has an oversight role in relation to various aspects of public administration included under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) which is coordinated by the Department of Finance. The PGPA Act outlines the Committee’s oversight role to:
Approve rules made to annual report requirements of Commonwealth entities; and
Be consulted on any independent review of the operation of the PGPA Act and associated rules.
Inquiry and Review Conduct
The parliamentary inquiry/review process requires a new inquiry/review to be advertised and for invitations to be sent to relevant and interested individuals and organisations seeking written evidence through submissions.
The committee will then agree to date/s for public hearing/s to take formal oral evidence. All evidence authorised for publication by the Committee may then be drawn together into an inquiry report which will include the findings reached and recommendations made on the particular matters under inquiry.
The Australian Government (through a Government Response) may then respond to the recommendations made in the Committee’s reports, within a six month period.
Due to the implementation of temporary and precautionary measures to slow the global spread of COVID-19, from early March 2020, the Committee met via electronic means using videoconference and teleconference to continue its schedule of private meetings and public hearings.
Some of the work usually undertaken by the Committee during the period, such as consideration of the ANAO’s draft budget and the PBO’s draft budget, was postponed to later in 2020. This is in line with postponement of the consideration of the budget by the Parliament.
The Committee engages with national and international legislatures and parliaments by hosting parliamentary delegations and attending public accounts forums such as conferences and special meetings, including the Biennial Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees (ACPAC) Conference.
The Committee also has a coordination and leadership role in respect to the national ACPAC and the international Commonwealth Association of Public Accounts Committees (CAPAC).
The Committee, as an executive member of CAPAC, was to attend an international conference convened in London, United Kingdom in early March 2020. This was subsequently cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions both in Australia and internationally.
Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees Conference
From 6 to 8 November 2019, the Committee was honoured to host the 15th Biennial Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees (ACPAC) Conference in Canberra with the theme of Changes and Challenges over the last 30 Years. Representatives of each state Public Accounts Committee attended along with international delegates from South Africa, Fiji, and New Zealand.
The 2019 ACPAC Conference presented the opportunity to welcome new parliamentary discussion as well as sustain and strengthen existing intra-parliamentary dialogue about the challenges and work of respective parliaments and legislatures. The focus of this dialogue was on the work and workings of public accounts committees and their counterpart committees.