Senate Estimates Statement 2019

19 February 2019

Chair and Committee Members

Thank you for this opportunity. Having completed my first year as CEO, these are my reflections on the organisation’s critical role in building public trust, through transparency, in the integrity of Australia’s parliamentary work expenses.

Reflections on our first 12 months  

A principles-based framework comes with both opportunities and challenges, particularly in the early stages of implementation. The opportunities include:

  • Having the imprimatur, given the new legislative framework, to try new approaches and give personal assistance and advice
  • Questioning assumptions about how IPEA would operate and, the skills and technology required
  • Forging an expert, open and proactive culture.

The challenges include:

  • Concurrently developing and implementing protocols and interpretations
  • Understanding client needs and adjusting resources accordingly
  • Balancing education and enforcement in this sensitive space.

My overall observation on the application of the Parliamentary Business Resources Framework is that parliamentarians and staff do seek to work within the Principles.

Consistent with our website statements, IPEA assesses all information sources; from the public and the media, to other third parties and internal sources. Many matters involve allegations of incorrectly claimed Commonwealth expenses that, through a preliminary assessment, generally prove to be unfounded.

Where an expense appears to be outside the allowable framework, it progresses from a preliminary review to an assurance review and we seek additional information before considering if administrative remedy, or other action is, applicable. Escalating to a targeted audit involving formal information gathering powers is the exception rather than the rule. Current triggers for post-payment validation include business travel by staff, hire car transactions, and randomised checks of ‘receipts held’ statements and cabcharge usage.

It is important to note that IPEA’s role is not to assess the policy or political merits of an individual’s (a parliamentarian or staff member) particular parliamentary business. IPEA’s role is to assess whether the spending of Commonwealth funds resulting from an individual’s parliamentary business is within the framework.

Important lessons for parliamentarians and staff include:

  • Ask questions - travel arrangements can be complex and we can assist
  • Certification of expenses cannot be delegated therefore keeping and maintaining accurate and accessible records which are then checked by the parliamentarian, is critical
  • The onus is on the parliamentarian to apply the Principles and justify publicly their decisions.

Important lessons for IPEA include:

  • Don’t assume knowledge of the framework, keep messages clear and practical
  • Proactively engage and educate to minimise inadvertent non-compliance
  • As we deal with reputations, ours and parliamentarians, be consistently ‘firm but fair’.

Our education role is important. It assists parliamentarians and staff make informed decisions that respect and value the use of taxpayers’ money and meet community expectations.

We engage with stakeholders in a variety of ways, including through multi-media, the website and traditional fact sheets. Since commencing, I have personally met with 30 parliamentarians from the major parties and the cross-bench about IPEA and the Principles. My senior team also regularly meet with parliamentarians and staff to provide information and advice, and to gain insights into the practical application of the framework.

Over 400 people have attended IPEA information sessions and independent feedback on our administration is very favourable for a new organisation. The majority of respondents were ‘satisfied with the experience’, found IPEA ‘easy to communicate with’ and agreed IPEA ‘listens to clients’. Satisfaction rates for interaction with IPEA staff were even higher. 

Parliamentarians received all monthly management and quarterly expenditure reports within required timeframes. In 2018 on average the Advice team received around 50 queries per day and processed over 200,000 transactions. These transactions were to a total value of $60.3 million.

IPEA also implemented a range of governance initiatives and was recognised with an Honourable Mention at Comcover’s 2018 Awards for Excellence in Risk Management.

With just under 60 staff, it was a busy establishment year for IPEA. I acknowledge and thank staff and the Members of the Authority who have been very engaged and helpful for their engagement and contribution.

Analysis of the thousands of enquiries we received together with insights into expenses and behaviours from our audit and assurance activities, provided useful direction for 2019.

Clear, timely and tailored engagement, education and interventions are an intended focus for 2019. For example, yesterday all parliamentarians received Guidance on Travel during an Election Period. It recognises that the election is a major focus for this year, and such guidance is one of a number of initiatives to minimise inadvertent mistakes.

IPEA’s education role is evolving, with a particular emphasis this election year on supporting new and returning parliamentarians. IPEA is designing new and accessible resources in a range of formats, including on-boarding and refresher information to assist parliamentarians and staff to be well informed about obligations and expectations when travelling at Commonwealth expense.

Our program of audits is ongoing. Some audits will relate to individuals and their expenses in line with our published protocol, while others will have a thematic focus on a particular work expense across a sample of parliamentarians. Our audit processes are thorough, although constantly being refined, and provide added levels of transparency and independent oversight of parliamentary work expenses for the Australian public. The first thematic audit, on office stationery and supplies, is underway and I thank those parliamentarians involved in assisting with data.

We intend to expand our range of automatic triggers for post-payment validation to include travel involving:

  • Desirable destinations
  • Accompanying family, and
  • When adjacent to public or school holidays.

IPEA remains a relatively new organisation and we continue to evolve and learn. The field of actively monitoring parliamentary expenses is an emerging one. Wherever possible IPEA supports collaboration with stakeholders in Australia and internationally. As examples, we have hosted delegations from Victoria, Canada, and Chile, fielded queries from the USA, and participated in local and international surveys and research. In particular, we have established strong relationships with our colleagues at the UK’s Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and with member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These relationships are mutually beneficial. We are learning from our colleagues across the globe and, based on feedback, they are learning from us. To this end, I am facilitating a session at the inaugural conference of International Parliamentary Regulators hosted by IPSA in March in the UK on 'what transparency means in practice and its impact on trust'.  The Conference is expected to become an annual event.

In conclusion, thank you for your ongoing bi-partisan support and interest.  I look forward to sharing progress and insights throughout the year at these and other opportunities.

Thank you.

Annwyn Godwin
Chief Executive Officer