Tuesday 27 February 2018
Chair and Committee Members,
Thank you for the opportunity to make this opening statement as the inaugural CEO of IPEA.
Firstly I would like to thank Leonie McGregor for being our interim CEO and for successfully guiding IPEA through its establishment phase.
I commenced in this role on 1 January 2018, having previously served two terms as the APS Merit Protection and Parliamentary Service Merit Protection Commissioner. I bring a reputation of being ‘firm but fair’ to this new and important role.
A little over a year ago, the Prime Minister announced sweeping reforms to the framework that governs parliamentarians’ work resources. This included the establishment of IPEA. I consider our name, IPEA, to be very important – we are an Independent Authority focussing on Parliamentary Expenses – and this symbolises an important change from past approaches. As the Prime Minister explained, IPEA is “a compliance, reporting and transparency body” to ensure taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in accordance with the principles. The principles are expressed in plain English and are easy to understand. Nothing could be clearer than the 2016 Independent Parliamentary Entitlements System Review Report (external link) where it states “A parliamentarian should not seek to disguise as parliamentary business an activity whose purpose is personal or commercial”.
Consistent with the recommendations of the Review Report, from 1 January 2018 the Parliamentary Business Resources framework requires Parliamentarians to ensure that any expenditure for parliamentary business is consistent with the legislated principles. While all the Principles are equal, I draw your attention to three requirements. The first is for parliamentarians only to use public resources for the dominant purpose of parliamentary business; secondly to consider the overriding principle of value-for-money for the Commonwealth and thirdly, to act in good faith and be prepared to publicly justify the use of public resources. The framework provides definitions of the types of duties that may constitute parliamentary business; these definitions are broader than the previous arrangements.
Under the new framework, IPEA provides more definitive advice and post-travel rulings. This improved form of advice is of great value to parliamentarians and builds integrity in the system. I appreciate that the changes may pose some initial administrative challenges to parliamentarians and their staff. As you are aware, information activities are already well underway, with IPEA holding information sessions in Canberra and other capital cities. IPEA is here to assist and will provide support to parliamentarians and their offices in understanding and adhering to the new expenses framework through this period of transition and beyond.
Since 1 July 2017, IPEA has processed over one hundred and twenty thousand travel related payments and received nearly seven thousand unique enquiries for advice regarding travel expenses. We are helping parliamentarians to engage and meet with constituents, and this supports the healthy functioning of our parliament and democracy. It is our shared responsibility – IPEA, parliamentarians and staff - to provide confidence to the Australian community that public resources are being accessed and administered appropriately.
IPEA has already moved towards more frequent, accessible and transparent reporting of parliamentary and staff expenditure. We are currently reporting this expenditure on a quarterly basis and will move to monthly reporting – ideally with the help of new technology – in due course. Our expenditure reports, available through our website, are in a more user-friendly and filterable format. I appreciate that the normal and expected consequence of more regular reporting and greater transparency is increased media attention.
Where a concern of alleged misuse is raised, IPEA conducts activities at arm’s length from government – in accordance with a protocol agreed by the Members of IPEA. The protocol is available on the IPEA website. IPEA does not report to Government on concerns that may be under consideration and does not generally comment on any specific concerns or matters that may or may not be under consideration at any point in time.
I thank Committee Members for meeting with me. IPEA is here to administer the new legislation and help parliamentarians “do the right thing” when claiming work expenses. This, after all, is in everyone’s best interest – the Australian taxpayer, IPEA, parliamentarians and their staff. There was significant consultation on, and bipartisan support for, the legislation as it passed through Parliament. The reforms are a significant undertaking and IPEA cannot do it alone. With a new CEO and new legislation we are also on a steep learning curve and, until the Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS) is fully implemented, we continue to work with manual systems. We need the ongoing support of all parliamentarians to deliver on the intended legislative purpose.
Chief Executive Officer