Underfunded accountability institutions

by Elizabeth Morison

In the months since the previous Federal government’s 2022-23 budget, integrity issues have  become national concerns, from the former Prime Minister’s secret ministries to the growth in cronyism in appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Albanese Government’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is a major and welcome integrity reform, and one supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians. This budget shows that the NACC is the Government’s number one priority when it comes to integrity in democracy, and a significant investment in important anti-corruption work.

But despite a strong commitment to the NACC, the Budget leaves other established accountability institutions underfunded, even where there have been commitments to increase staffing. Government funding of Australia’s other important accountability institutions is set to fall by $150 million in real terms over the next four years.

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 OAIC is expected to receive more than 1,600 FOI review requests in 2023, but estimates it has capacity to complete only half of these.

To clear its backlog, the OAIC will need to double its capacity. The budget allows for an 41% increase of staff from 118 to 166 in 2023. Despite this, the OAIC’s funding will fall by almost half (46%) over forward estimates: from $27 million in the current year to around $14 million in 2025–26 in 2022-23 prices.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is responsible for holding Australian Government entities and some prescribed private sector organisations accountable for acting with integrity.

The Ombudsman’s funding will fall from $41 million in the current year to $32 million in 2025–26, when adjusted for inflation. Staffing will remain similar in 2023.

Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)

The DPP is responsible for prosecuting alleged offences against Commonwealth law and will see funding fall from $93 million in 2021–22 to $83 million in 2025–26.  This is despite a new remit for the Fraud Fusion Taskforce, which will replace the National Disability Insurance Scheme taskforce to catch out those unfairly receiving payments under the scheme.

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS)

The IGIS reviews and oversees Australia’s intelligence agencies, and will have a role in the development of the NACC. Its budget will remain consistent over the next four years, at $12 million per year when adjusted for inflation. The IGIS’ average staffing level will grow by about a third over the next year, to 57.

Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI)

Over the next year, the ACLEI will receive additional funding and a growth in staffing by two thirds, from 82 to 133, to support the establishment of the NACC. After 2023, the ACLEI will be subsumed into the NACC, with $76 million of ACLEI funding redirected into the NACC from 2023-24 to 2025-26.

Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

The AHRC is an independent third party that investigates discrimination and human rights issues. Under this budget, the AHRC will receive 12% increase in staffing, to 151 staff next year. The Budget allocates $31.8 million over four years in general resourcing to the AHRC, $7.5 million to support the implementation of the National Anti-Racism Strategy and $8.9 million for women’s safety initiative Respect@Work. When accounting for inflation, the AHRC’s funding is expected to grow from $22 million in the current year to $24 million in 2025–26.

Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC)

The ALRC functions to develop and reform the law. It does so by reviewing Commonwealth laws and legal processes, and by undertaking inquiries for the Attorney-General. Over the next four years, annual funding for the ALRC will drop slightly in real terms. Over the next year, staffing will remain the same.

Fair Work Ombudsman and the Registered Organisations Commission Entity

While the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) Entity is being abolished, its funding is being transferred to the Fair Work Commission. The ROC Entity has been counted in the same line item as the Fair Work Ombudsman (not be confused with the Fair Work Commission).

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.

Despite these important previous findings, over the coming years, funding to the ANAO remains unchanged, at $81 million per year. Over the coming year, staffing is expected to grow by 16%, from 326 to 379.

With no improvement in the Auditor-General’s operations funding, there is no change expected in the number of performance reviews the ANAO will conduct compared to last budget. It will be 2024–25 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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