The annual reports of the following departments for the financial year 2020–21 (the reporting period) were referred to the committee for examination and report:
Attorney-General's Department (AGD); and
Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), including the Australian Border Force (ABF).
Tabling of report
The Attorney-General's Department Annual Report 2020–2021 was tabled in the House of Representatives and the Senate on 20 October 2021. The report was submitted to the minister on 29 September 2021, meeting the requirements under section 46 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act).
In her review for 2020–21, the Secretary of AGD, Ms Katherine Jones PSM, acknowledged Mr Chris Moraitis PSM, who concluded his time as Secretary on 3 January 2021. She also thanked Mr Iain Anderson, who served as Acting Secretary for the remainder of the 2020–21 financial year.
Ms Jones noted that, through the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) Group, the department continued to support components of the Australian government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. AGS lawyers provided legal advice relating to public health measures, economic support, and the vaccination rollout.
The Secretary also highlighted several of AGD's achievements and priorities during the reporting period, which included the:
provision of support to the government to enact legislation that brings together the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia;
development of draft legislation that aims to strengthen protections for victims of family violence in the family law system;
coordination of the development of the response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces report;
provision of support for the establishment, operation, and decommission of royal commissions;
provision of advice to government on draft legislation to implement the government’s response to the Religious Freedom Review;
review of the Privacy Act 1988 to inform the future direction of privacy law reform in Australia; and
implementation of measures that contribute to achieving the justice, and land and water targets under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
AGD's reporting framework is set out in the Attorney-General's 2020–21 Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS) and the 2020–24 Corporate Plan (corporate plan). The PBS sets out AGD's outcomes, and the programs administered underneath them. It also sets out high-level performance measures, using the standards of 'effectiveness' and 'efficiency' to measure success in meeting AGD’s outcomes.
The outcomes outlined in the PBS are reflected by the two purposes set out in the corporate plan, which are:
Achieve a just and secure society through the maintenance and improvement of Australia's law, justice, security, and integrity frameworks; and
Facilitate jobs growth through policies and programs that promote fair, productive, and safe workplaces.
AGD reported that the performance criteria and targets that were presented in the PBS were reset by a new suite of performance measures and targets contained in the corporate plan. AGD updated its performance framework in the corporate plan by moving away from the concept of strategic priorities, which the department has historically used to define its areas of work. The corporate plan listed five key activities that assist in achieving the purposes set out in the corporate plan. These activities are:
provide legal services and policy advice and oversee legal services across government;
administer and advise on legal and policy frameworks;
administer and implement programs and services; and
establish and support Royal Commissions and other bodies.
The performance of the department is measured through 22 performance measures that are composed of 63 performance targets that relate to these five activities.
In the reporting period, AGD achieved or partly achieved all of its performance measures, with 82 per cent achieved or exceeded (18 measures) and 18 per cent partly achieved (four measures). Of its 63 performance targets, 87 per cent were achieved or exceeded (55 targets) and 11 per cent were partly achieved (seven targets). Two per cent of the targets were not achieved (one target). This compares to the previous reporting period, during which 75 per cent of targets were achieved, seven per cent were partly achieved and 18 per cent were not achieved.
The one target that was not achieved pertained to lower than anticipated satisfaction of government lawyers with initiatives provided by the Australian Government Legal Service (AGLS). The results of a survey of 344 government lawyers indicated that 32 per cent were 'somewhat satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with the AGLS, while five per cent of respondents were 'somewhat' or 'very unsatisfied'. The remaining respondents (63 per cent) were 'neutral' or believed that it was 'too early to tell' their level of satisfaction with the services provided by AGLS. AGD suggested that these results 'provide room to improve over the coming years' and that '[t]he results will assist us to devise and prioritise initiatives'.
The seven targets that were partly achieved were as follows:
Target 2.1.4—Qualitative analysis shows that advice to decision-makers on extradition, mutual assistance, international transfer of prisoners, federal offender and international family law casework is timely and legally robust. A panel considered four pieces of advice across different casework types and applied qualitative assessment criteria that measured timeliness and legal robustness. The panel deemed that three of the four casework matters met the qualitative assessment criteria and therefore this target was partly achieved.
Target 3.1.1—Stakeholder and client satisfaction greater than 80 per cent in relation to: effectiveness (expertise and quality of relationship) and efficiency (timeliness and responsiveness). In responses to the department's stakeholder survey, 82 per cent of respondents rated AGD's effectiveness positively and 72 per cent of respondents rated AGD's efficiency positively. As the efficiency measure was below 80 per cent, the target was partially achieved.
Target 3.6.4—Simplification of the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 leads to increased usability of the Personal Property Securities Register. The target required exposure draft legislation to be completed and submitted to the Assistant Minister by 30 June 2021. The exposure draft legislation was not submitted by that date. However, AGD reported that progress has been made on tranches of draft legislation that will ultimately form the exposure draft. As a result, the target was partially achieved.
Target 4.1.1—Provision of funding to states and territories, legal assistance providers and individuals, in line with agreed timeframes and subject to third parties meeting relevant obligations and requirements. AGD provides funding and assessments of grant applications and progress reports for the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020–25, legal assistance bushfire support, and COVID-19 legal assistance support and activities. The department explained that the target was partially achieved, as three payments were not made within the expected timeframes.
Target 4.1.3—Stakeholder and client satisfaction greater than 80 per cent in relation to the effectiveness (expertise and quality of relationship) and efficiency (timeliness and responsiveness) of the legal assistance grant programs, the National Legal Assistance Partnership, COVID-19, and bushfires programs. In response to the department’s stakeholder survey, 85 per cent of respondents rated effectiveness positively and 63 per cent rated efficiency positively. As the performance measure for efficiency was below 80 per cent, the target was partially achieved.
Target 4.3.1—Amounts recovered by the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG) Recovery Program achieve the estimated recoveries forecast to the Department of Finance. The department estimated that the FEG Recovery Program would recover $37.94 million in 2020–21. AGD reported that during the reporting period it recovered $20.15 million. The variance was attributed to slower progress of matters before the courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a reduction in insolvencies due to government stimulus measures.
Target 5.2.2—Timeliness and appropriateness of responses to requests for access to royal commission records. In some cases, the timeframes for responses to requests for access to records were not met and, as a result, the target was partially achieved.
The AGD recorded a surplus of $7.351 million during the reporting period, compared to a deficit of $7.612 million the previous year. After adjustment for unfunded depreciation of $14.449 million, the result is a surplus of $21.8 million. AGD attributed this surplus to a strong performance by the Australian Government Solicitor Group and lower than anticipated demand for major departmental demand-driven programs.
The total administered expenses for the reporting period were $713.490 million, compared to $897.952 million in the previous year, including $289.294 million grant payments, $139.610 million in special appropriation payments to the Coal Mining Industry (Long Service Leave Funding) Corporation, and $104.889 million for the royal commissions, including legal assistance for witnesses.
The total administered revenue for the reporting period included levies of $139.610 million collected by the Coal Mining Industry (Long Service Leave Funding) Corporation and personal benefit recoveries of $47.234 million under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012. Both functions fall under the department’s industrial relations responsibilities.
The committee considers the report to be 'apparently satisfactory'.
Department of Home Affairs including the Australian Border Force
Tabling of report
The Department of Home Affairs 2020–21 Annual Report was tabled in the House of Representatives and the Senate on 19 October 2021. The report was submitted to the Minister for Home Affairs on 20 September 2021, meeting the requirements under section 46 of the PGPA Act.
Secretary's and Commissioner's reviews
The Secretary of Home Affairs, Mr Michael Pezzullo AO, and the Commissioner of the ABF, Mr Michael Outram APM, provided individual reviews for the annual report.
Mr Pezzullo stated that the COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect Home Affairs' work during the reporting period. While most international travellers continued to face unprecedented travel restrictions during the reporting period, Mr Pezzullo noted that the department effectively balanced genuine grounds for exemption against biosecurity and public health risks. That included processing more than 565,000 travel exemption requests for inbound or outbound travel, including individuals with specialist medical skills and skilled migrants to fill critical labour shortages. Visa policy settings were also adapted to support critical industries and economic recovery.
In addition to the challenges associated with COVID-19, Mr Pezzullo reported that the department continued to confront many existing and evolving threats in 2020–21, including:
the threat of cyber-attacks, including ransomware, against critical infrastructure and systems of national significance;
serious and organised criminal activity, including criminal actors circumventing revenue collection at the border and profiting from illegal trade; and
criminal offenders utilising anonymising technologies, including the dark web.
Mr Pezzullo identified several initiatives that had progressed during the period, including:
initiatives to improve the security of digital and trusted identities;
reforms to the Adult Migrant English Program that enable eligible migrants to access unlimited hours of government-funded English language tuition;
a partnership with the ABF to progress measures that modernise trade and customs arrangements to make it easier for businesses to engage in international trade;
the examination of options for the graduated and biosecure re-opening of Australia's international border by following expert public health advice and collaborating with Commonwealth agencies and state and territory partners;
further implementation of the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, with more than half of the key initiatives progressed or delivered in full;
publication of a voluntary Internet of Things (IoT) Code of Practice; and
support for efforts to enhance the national emergency management continuum by preparing for an enhanced Emergency Management Australia and working towards the establishment of a National Situation Room.
In his review, ABF Commissioner Outram noted that travel restrictions and border controls enforced by the ABF were one of the key factors in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. The Commissioner also indicated that the ABF would play an important role in the post-COVID-19 recovery, through the facilitation of trade and the gradual re-opening of Australia's borders.
The Commissioner highlighted that the ABF would extend the tariff concession for certain medical and hygiene goods, including face masks and other personal protective equipment, until 30 June 2022.
Commissioner Outram outlined other aspects of the ABF's work during the reporting period, including:
participating in Operation Ironside, which culminated in a large-scale global operation against transnational serious and organised crime;
the establishment of Operation Jardena, which aims to identify and combat criminal infiltration of the Australian supply chain;
maintaining the COVID-free status of Australia's immigration detention centres;
the delivery of the initial components of the Simplified Trade System in line with project milestones; and
the facilitation of the entry into force of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus free trade agreements.
Home Affairs' performance framework is set out in the 2020–21 Home Affairs Portfolio Budget Statements (Home Affairs PBS) and the 2020–21 Corporate Plan – Variation published December 2020 (corporate plan). The Home Affairs PBS outlines the department's three outcomes and the programs related to each of them, as well as several performance criteria. The corporate plan highlighted three purposes, each of which reflect the outcomes in the PBS:
national security: protect Australia from national security and criminal threats through effective national coordination, policy and strategy development, emergency management, and regional cooperation;
prosperous and united society: support a prosperous and united Australia through effective coordination and delivery of immigration and social cohesion policies and programs; and
border and customs operations: advance a prosperous and secure Australia through trade and travel facilitation and modernisation, and effective customs, immigration, maritime and enforcement activities across the border continuum.
Each purpose contains several activities and measures by which Home Affairs assesses its performance. The performance statement in the annual report clearly sets out the relationship between the outcomes and programs under the PBS, and the purposes and activities of the corporate plan. The performance framework, as set out in the annual report, provides a 'clear read'.
Home Affairs met or partially met most of its performance measures. The performance measures not met were as follows:
Measure 188.8.131.52—Transport security in key regional partners is improved through delivery of all scheduled activities in line with Capacity Building Plan targets. Home Affairs reported that it completed 25 of the 33 scheduled projects across Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The annual report explained that due to surging COVID-19 case numbers across South-East Asia and Mekong region countries, lock downs, and on-going international travel restrictions, a number of scheduled projects were required to be substituted, cancelled, or re-phased.
Measure 184.108.40.206—Eligible non-financial disaster assistance requests are approved within six hours of an agreed request received. One request was not approved within six hours during the reporting period due to external factors outside of the department's control. However, the request for assistance was completed within the requesting agency's timeframe.
Measure 220.127.116.11—Facilitation in trade, cargo, and traveller streams is maintained or improved compared to previous reporting periods. Home Affairs reported that during the reporting period, COVID-19 impeded the ABF's ability to optimally use automation and deliver streamlined facilitation processes across trade, cargo, and traveller streams. The annual report stated that the greatest impacts were experienced in the traveller domain due to ongoing travel restrictions that necessitated manual processing and health and hygiene measures at the border. In 2020–21, the average clearance time for inbound travellers increased to 65.7 seconds, compared to 65.4 seconds in 2019–20. In 2020–21, the average clearance time for outbound travellers increased to 52.8 seconds, compared to 39.4 seconds in 2019–20. Air cargo clearance times also rose, due to an approximately 25.6 per cent increase in total air cargo consignments and a 50.4 per cent increase in the volume of air cargo consignments discharged in Sydney in 2020–21 compared to 2019–20. While additional staff were redeployed to the cargo environment from the aviation travellers stream in 2020–21, COVID-19-related health requirements slowed cargo clearance times. While total sea cargo consignments increased by 97.9 per cent compared to 2019–20, and the volume of containers increased by approximately 11.4 per cent over that time, sea cargo clearance times improved during the reporting period, compared to the previous reporting period.
The total departmental operating result for 2020–21 was a $322.9 million operating deficit compared with the $424.5 million operating deficit recorded in the previous reporting period. After accounting for $606.4 million in depreciation and amortisation expenses (including for right-of-use leased assets) and $259.5 million in principal repayments for leased assets, the
2020–21 operating result is a surplus of $23.9 million. This surplus also includes approximately $18 million as a result of the changes in government bond rates on the valuation of employee leave provisions.
During the reporting period, Home Affairs reported that its administered expenses were $2.60 billion, compared to $2.58 billion in 2019–20. The report attributed this variance to lower expenses on the Refugee Humanitarian and Settlement program due to the combined effect of border closures and
COVID-19 restrictions, which were largely offset by increased Disaster Recovery payments.
Home Affairs reported that its net asset position is $1.2 billion (assets minus liabilities), which is consistent with the net asset position of $1.2 billion reported in 2019–20.
The committee considers the report to be 'apparently satisfactory'.