The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee (the committee) is responsible for examining the annual reports of the departments and agencies in the Attorney-General's and Home Affairs portfolios.
This report on annual reports (No. 1 of 2022) provides an overview of the committee's examination of annual reports presented to the Parliament between 1 May 2021 and 30 April 2022.
Terms of reference
Under Standing Order 25(20), the annual reports of certain departments and agencies stand referred to committees for examination and assessment. Each committee is required to:
examine each annual report referred to it and report to the Senate whether the report is apparently satisfactory;
consider in more detail, and report to the Senate on, each annual report which is not apparently satisfactory, and on the other annual reports which it selects for more detailed consideration;
investigate and report to the Senate on any lateness in the presentation of annual reports;
in considering an annual report, take into account any relevant remarks about the report made in debate in the Senate;
if the committee so determines, consider annual reports of departments and budget-related agencies in conjunction with examination of estimates;
report on annual reports tabled by 31 October each year by the tenth sitting day of the following year, and on annual reports tabled by 30 April each year by the tenth sitting day after 30 June of that year;
draw to the attention of the Senate any significant matters relating to the operations and performance of the bodies furnishing the annual reports; and
report to the Senate each year whether there are any bodies which do not present annual reports to the Senate and which should present such reports.
The Senate allocated departments and agencies to committees on 4 July 2019. In accordance with that resolution, the committee has responsibility for the oversight of the following:
Attorney-General's portfolio (excluding industrial relations); and
Performance reporting framework
The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) established a performance reporting framework for all Commonwealth entities and companies. Section 38 of the PGPA Act requires all Commonwealth entities to measure and assess their performance.
Section 39 of the PGPA Act requires all Commonwealth entities to prepare an annual performance statement and include those statements in their annual reports. Entities use annual performance statements to report on the results achieved against the targets, goals and measures established at the beginning of a reporting year in the relevant corporate plan and Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS).
These documents are an essential part of the accountability system. They provide the minister, the Parliament, and the public with detailed information about the actual financial and non-financial performance of entities in each reporting period and facilitate the examination of public resources to achieve the intended results for a Commonwealth body.
The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 (PGPA Rule) supports the implementation of the PGPA Act and outlines the requirements of annual reports for Commonwealth entities.
Requirements for annual reports
Annual reports place a great deal of information about government departments and agencies on the public record. Accordingly, the tabling of annual reports is an important element of accountability to the Parliament, as the information provided in annual reports assists in the effective examination of the performance of departments and agencies, and the administration of government programs.
Different types of Commonwealth bodies have separate provisions for annual reporting which affect content and preparation requirements. Legislative provisions for Commonwealth bodies include:
Non-corporate Commonwealth entity—section 46 of the PGPA Act and Subdivision A of Division 3A of Part 2–3 of the PGPA Rule;
Corporate Commonwealth entity—section 46 of the PGPA Act and Subdivision B of Division 3A of Part 2–3 of the PGPA Rule;
Commonwealth company—section 97 of the PGPA Act, which refers to additional requirements under the Corporations Act 2001 and Part 3–3 of the PGPA Rule;
Statutory office holders and statutory bodies—statutory office holders are engaged or employed under an Act, which may prescribe annual reporting requirements pursuant to the office. It should be noted that there may be reporting requirements in the enabling legislation for statutory bodies (which may also be a Commonwealth entity); and
Non-statutory bodies (NSBs)—NSBs are established by a minister and are not pursuant to a statute. Guidelines for the preparation of annual reports for NSBs are contained in the government response to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration report on non-statutory bodies.
In addition to legislative requirements, the Department of Finance (Finance) provides guidance material for Commonwealth entities and companies which sets out further detail on the content requirements for annual reports under the Commonwealth performance framework in accordance with the PGPA Act and PGPA Rule. Material available from the Finance website includes the following guides which apply to the reports being examined:
Resource Management Guide No. 135—Annual reports for non-corporate Commonwealth entities; and
Resource Management Guide No. 136—Annual reports for corporate Commonwealth entities.
In accordance with Standing Order 25(20)(f), this report examines annual reports tabled in the period 1 May 2021 to 30 April 2022. In this period, 23 annual reports of Commonwealth entities and statutory office holders were tabled and referred to the committee. The annual reports examined in this report are categorised as follows:
Administrative Appeals Tribunal—annual report 2020–21;
Attorney-General’s Department—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity—annual report of the Integrity Commissioner 2020–21;
Australian Financial Security Authority—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Law Reform Commission—annual report 2020–21;
Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions—annual report 2020–21;
Commonwealth Ombudsman—annual report 2020–21;
Family Court of Australia—annual report 2020–21;
Federal Circuit Court of Australia—annual report 2020–21;
Federal Court of Australia—annual report 2020–21, including the report of the National Native Title Tribunal;
Independent National Security Legislation Monitor—annual report
Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security—annual report 2020–21;
National Archives of Australia and National Archives of Australia Advisory Council—annual report 2020–21;
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner—annual report
Office of Parliamentary Counsel—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Federal Police (AFP)—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Institute of Criminology—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)—annual report 2020–21;
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre—annual report 2020–21;
Department of Home Affairs—annual report 2020–21; and
Office of the Special Investigator—annual report 2020–21.
The committee is not obliged to examine reports on the operation of Acts, policy papers, budget documents or corporate plans. A list of all reports referred to the committee, including those not examined in this report, can be found in Appendices 1 and 2.
Timeliness of reports examined
Standing Order 25(20)(c) requires the committee to report to the Senate on the late presentation of annual reports. The committee considers the timely presentation of annual reports to be an important element in accountability to the Parliament and reiterates its preference of having annual reports available before Supplementary Budget Estimates hearings.
Section 46 of the PGPA Act requires Commonwealth entities (corporate and non-corporate) to prepare annual reports and for such reports to be provided to the responsible minister by the 15th day of the fourth month after the end of the reporting period for the entity. The PGPA Act does not provide a timeframe for presentation to the Parliament. The minister is, however, obliged to present the report within 15 sitting days upon receiving it.
Appendices 1 and 2 list the reports referred to the committee over the two reporting periods (1 May 2021 to 31 October 2021 and 1 November 2021 to 30 April 2022, respectively). The appendices include the dates the reports were tabled in the Senate (or received by the President out of session) and the House of Representatives. For the purposes of the committee’s examination of timeliness, the earlier date is taken as the presentation date to the Parliament. The table also includes the dates the reports were submitted to, and received by, the minister, if available.
The committee notes that the AHRC failed to submit its annual report to the responsible minister by the prescribed date of 15 October 2021.
Where an entity is unable to meet the submission deadline, an extension of time to report may be sought under the provisions of subsections 34C(4)–(7) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901. The relevant minister may then grant an extension, provided that there are reasonable grounds to do so. If an extension is granted, the relevant minister is required to present before each House of Parliament a copy of the written statement seeking an extension to present the annual report and a statement that specifies the extension granted and the reasons for granting that extension.
The committee notes that Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the AHRC, sought an extension of time to present the annual report on 7 October 2021. The Attorney-General extended the time to present the annual report until 29 October 2021, pursuant to sections 34C(4) and (5) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.
The committee understands that neither the request for an extension to present the AHRC’s annual report to the Attorney-General nor a statement specifying the extension granted were tabled in each House of Parliament pursuant to subsection 34C(6)(a) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.
The AHRC submitted its annual report to the Attorney-General on 1 February 2022. The report was subsequently tabled in the Senate out of session on 24 February 2022.
All other Commonwealth entities over which the committee has oversight submitted their annual reports by the prescribed date.
Bodies which have not presented annual reports to the Parliament
In accordance with Standing Order 25(20)(h), the committee is required to report on bodies that do not present an annual report to the Senate and which should present such a report.
On this occasion, the committee is unaware of any other body required to table an annual report for 2020–21 which has failed to do so.
Annual reports referred to in the Senate
Under Standing Order 25(20)(d), the committee is required to take into consideration any remarks made in the Senate about each annual report.
The committee identified four occasions on which an annual report was remarked upon during debate in the Senate during the period between 1 May 2021 and 30 April 2022.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Annual Report 2020–21 was remarked upon during debate in the Senate on 21 October 2021. The Attorney-General, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, referred to the
Director-General of Security’s review contained in ASIO's annual report, which stated that espionage could supplant terrorism as the principal threat to Australia’s national security.
Senator James Paterson and Senator the Hon Anne Ruston also remarked upon the ASIO annual report during debate in the Senate on 22 November 2021. While speaking on the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2021, Senators Paterson and Ruston noted that the Director-General of Security indicated that Australia faces the risk of foreign state actors using the cyber-realm to undermine Australia’s national interests.
While discussing the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity's examination of the Annual Report of the Integrity Commissioner 2020–21 on 30 March 2022, Senator Perin Davey remarked upon the Annual Report of the Integrity Commissioner 2020–21.
The committee notes the remarks made by the Attorney-General, Senator Paterson, Senator Ruston, and Senator Davey.
Standing Order 25(20)(a) requires the committee to report to the Senate on whether the annual reports referred to it in the relevant period were 'apparently satisfactory'. In assessing these reports, the committee has taken into consideration the status of the annual reports within the Commonwealth performance framework, the legislative requirements for the reports, and guidance for best practice issued by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's Tabling Guidelines, and the resource management guides issued by the Department of Finance. The committee considers all reports examined to be 'apparently satisfactory' and continues to encourage Commonwealth entities to aim for standards of best practice in preparing annual reports.