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The work of the Parliament involves making laws — including for the allocation of funds for government expenditure and scrutinising government activities — holding the government to account for its policies, actions and spending, and providing a forum for debate on national issues. The executive arm of government is accountable to Parliament for its use of public resources and the administration of legislation passed by the Parliament. In this parliamentary system, public accounts committees (PACs) and the work of the officers of the Parliament, play an important role in enabling the Parliament to carry out the oversight function effectively, making governments accountable.
The effective and transparent performance of this role is fundamental to maintaining trust in the parliamentary process.
The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) is the Australian Parliament’s PAC. The Committee scrutinises the governance, performance and accountability of Commonwealth entities, and has the power to inquire into all expenditure of Commonwealth money.
The Auditor-General for Australia is an independent officer of the Parliament whose functions and powers are set out under the Auditor-General Act 1997 (the Act). The Auditor-General is assisted by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in delivering against the mandate established by the Act. The ANAO scrutinises and provides independent assurance as to whether the executive is operating and accounting for its performance in accordance with Parliament’s intent.
The Auditor-General’s financial statement audits ensure accountability to the Parliament for the expenditure of public funds. In addition to the annual program of mandated financial statements audits, the ANAO undertakes a wide-ranging program of performance audits which touches on many aspects of government entities resource management, governance and performance.
All of these activities are carried out in the context of a legislative framework which sets out the financial and non-financial planning and reporting requirements of government entities.
In a 2015 inquiry report into the ‘Development of the Commonwealth Performance Framework’, the JCPAA noted that one of its key goals was to have general oversight of the overall financial management framework that underpins the operations of Commonwealth entities and working to ensure the Parliament has access to timely, clear, contextual and transparent information about the performance of agencies.
This paper considers the roles the JCPAA and the Auditor-General have played in overseeing the development and implementation of reforms to the Commonwealth performance framework. In turn, demonstrating how an ongoing focus on improving public sector performance measurement and reporting contributes to maintaining trust in parliamentary processes.
These oversight roles are critical in ensuring that the executive, who are the lead authors of the framework, appropriately focus on the needs of the Parliament as primary users of the framework. To be effective, the framework needs to produce information which is legible to the Parliament. Without this oversight the incentives on the executive authors do not ensure such legibility.