4 March 2020
Chair and Committee Members
Thank you for the opportunity to make an opening statement.
IPEA starts the new decade with a continuing focus on providing parliamentarians and their staff with the necessary services to undertake their critical role in Australia’s democracy. IPEA balances this focus with the Australian public’s expectation that taxpayer’s funds are spent for their legislated purpose and represent value for money.
IPEA continues to provide oversight of travel expenses for parliamentarians and their staff, including definitive personal advice; we also continue to provide transparency and assurance on all work expenses through our reporting and audit functions. As you would be aware, we have now finalised a number of audits and these are published on our website. These audits are important publications approved by the Members of the Authority. The Members bring a diversity of experience to their role and add significant value to the reports.
In my first opening statement two years ago, I noted the intention to bring a ‘firm but fair’ approach to IPEA. I believe the quality and thoroughness of the work we have undertaken demonstrates that IPEA has delivered on this undertaking.
Throughout the coming 12 months, IPEA will continue the journey of education, awareness and provision of personal advice to better assist parliamentarians and their staff when making travel and travel-related decisions about spending taxpayer funds. I would emphasise that we are, wherever possible, here to support. As part of this support, last year IPEA launched an on-line education and training module to assist parliamentarians and their staff become familiar with, and accurately apply, the principles-based work expenses framework. The training program was recognised across the public sector as an exciting and innovative methodology for training. IPEA intends to build on this initial concept and, by working with parliamentarians and their staff, to provide an integrated suite of training.
While IPEA can provide a range of support materials, it is up to Parliamentarians and their staff to avail themselves of that support and seek specific advice on their particular circumstances. In 2020 all parliamentarians can expect IPEA to reach out and work closely with their offices. Assurance and audit work on all work expenses accessed by parliamentarians is an integral element of IPEA’s functions.
IPEA looks forward to meeting regularly with parliamentarians and staff in both Parliament House and, where possible, to visit electorate offices to provide tailored training on travel and travel related expenses. We are considering how to further improve our advice services through streamlining telephone services for a quicker, expert response.
Also during 2020, the Department of Finance is scheduled to deliver the Parliamentary Expenses Management System or PEMS. This is a significant milestone in the move to a long overdue modernisation and automation of the systems used for claiming and reporting work expenses for parliamentarians and their staff. Like parliamentarians and their staff, IPEA is a client of this significant project, and we look forward to working with all parties through the testing and implementation phases.
As with the introduction of any new technology, IPEA is preparing for a transitional period as PEMS is implemented. IPEA will continue to work with the Department of Finance to minimise disruption and mitigate any unintended consequences. User Acceptance Testing will commence this month and we will continue to work very hard to concurrently complete this testing and deliver our high quality advice and services.
I want to acknowledge the extraordinary commitment of my fellow IPEAns during 2019. Statistically, IPEA administered in excess of $60 million relating to approximately 200,000 claims for travel work expenses. IPEA also provided around 4,000 reports to parliamentarians for their scrutiny. In addition to these business as usual roles, IPEA realigned our functions, launched IPEA-Ed and prepared for an election.
The federal election was IPEA’s first and the first under the principles-based framework. Whilst this period was particularly busy, pre-planning and working closely with all parties meant that services were provided relatively seamlessly.
Immediately following the election IPEA met with all new MP’s, and later new Senators, to provide information on the aspects of the legislative framework for which IPEA is responsible. The election guidance material developed for travel during the election campaign was well received by parliamentarians and their staff. Prior to the next election the material will be reviewed to incorporate lessons learnt.
Included in the information pack to all parliamentarians post the election was a ‘Statement of Expectation’. Complementing this statement, IPEA has recently published on our website Service Level Standards for travel advice and processing. Parliamentarians and staff can assist IPEA by providing complete, accurate and timely information to minimise delays.
In what was a very busy year for all, I also want to personally thank you and your staff for your feedback through the 2019 survey. While the overwhelming majority of the feedback reinforces our subject expertise, professionalism and commitment to service, all feedback assists us to continually improve. One area identified for further work was to update the navigation tools on our website. As a result of this feedback, we are reviewing our approach.
I reiterate that the provision of quality services to parliamentarians and their staff remains the highest priority for my team and we will continue to seek to meet or exceed expectations.
I look forward to any questions you may have.
Chief Executive Officer