Underfunded accountability institutions

by Elizabeth Morison

Integrity issues remain at the forefront of national political discussions.

While there has been progress in some areas, such as the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) (due to commence in July), and the replacement of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) (see Australia Institute research on cronyism in AAT appointments) other accountability institutions still do not have the resources they need to do their job.

National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)

The NACC will continue to get nominal funding at a similar level to the October budget, $57 million in 2023-24, growing 16% to $67 million in 2025-26.

This budget includes $3 million over four years in additional funding for the Inspector of the NACC, to reflect the additional responsibilities (investigating maladministration and lawfulness) given to the Inspector by Parliament. While this extra authority is welcome, the National Integrity Committee of former judges has called for the Inspector to also be responsible for oversight of the performance of the NACC.

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)

The OAIC reviews privacy and freedom of information requests, but in recent years it has received more review requests than it can keep up with. The statutory timeframe for responding to FOI requests is 30 days. In 2022, there were 957 reviews over 12 months old, including 567 that were two years old, and 60 more than four years old. The FOI Commissioner resigned in March due to concern about the powers and resourcing of the role.

While on the face of it, OAIC’s nominal funding has increased by a whopping 56% from $29.6 million in 2022-23, to $46.5 million in 2023-24, over the forward estimates, funding is expected to drop dramatically again, to just $24.7 million in 2026-27, even lower than last year. Much of the funding is allocated to new initiatives like a Privacy Commissioner to investigate privacy issues like data breaches, and privacy assurance functions for the Digital ID program, not addressing the failure of the OAIC’s existing FOI review function.

An inquiry into Australia’s FOI system was announced in March 2023.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)

This year, the AAT received a nominal 22% increase from $157.7 million last year, to $192.5 million this year, along with a 26% increase in average staffing level to 806. Given the AAT’s “record backlog (more than 67,000 cases) [and] poor clearance rates”, this is completely appropriate.

The AAT is set to be replaced by a new federal administrative review body that is currently in consultation phase. Once replaced, the AAT’s funding and staff will be subsumed into the new body.

Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)

The ANAO reports directly to the Parliament as the national auditor for the Parliament and the Government. It has previously exposed suspect government advertising, and shed a light on both “sports rorts”, and the Leppington Triangle deal where $30 million was paid for land valued at one-tenth that amount.

While in the previous budget, funding for the ANAO stayed the same over the forward estimates, this budget commits to grow its funding by 17%, to a nominal $100 million in 2026-27.

It could be 2027 before the ANAO conducts 48 performance reviews, and there is no news on when the ANAO will be back to 55 reviews – the number it was expected to perform back in 2011–12.

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