Accountability ‘facing attack’ from $1.4 billion in cuts, think-tank argues

By Matthew Elmas

Tuesday October 6, 2020

accountability
The audit office’s scrutiny of sports grants led to Bridget McKenzie’s resignation from cabinet. Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Australia’s accountability institutions are “facing attack” from resourcing constraints, having lost more than a billion dollars in federal funding over the last decade, according to the Centre for Public Integrity.

In new analysis of budget papers published on Monday, the independent think-tank argued persistent cuts to agencies responsible for accountability is threatening scrutiny of government policies.

It found $1.4 billion in real terms has been cut from accountability institutions across government since 2010-11, while funding to these bodies as a function of total budget size has fallen from 1.14% to 0.6%.

“It is clear that Australia’s key accountability institutions are facing attack in the form of cuts to their resourcing, compromising their ability to continue to perform their critically important work,” the centre argued.

“We therefore urge the Government to commit to guaranteeing these institutions sufficient funding to fulfill their statutory functions, and to ensuring that their ability to perform their critical role within Australia’s democracy is not compromised”

The analysis parsed funding for a range of federal government organisations, including the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), Fair Work Commission (FWC), Commonwealth Ombudsman, Human Rights Commission, Australian Law Reform Commission and the CSIRO.

Combined funding has fallen from an inflation-adjusted $4.8 billion to $3.4 billion in the decade to 2019-20.

The centre for public integrity is governed by a range of senior academics,  public servants and former judges, including former policy integrity commissioner Geoffrey Watson and former Federal Court judge Tony Fitzgerald.

The calls come amid complaints from within the public service about the level of funding for agencies including the ANAO, ABS and OAIC.

Auditor-General Grant Hehir warned last week that the work of the national audit office, which has taken the government to task over pork barrelling and land valuations over the last year, would continue to recede without more resources.

“Without supplementary appropriations, the number of performance audits tabled in the parliament will continue to reduce,” he warned.

ANAO funding has been cut by $23.7 million in real terms since 2016-17, the centre for public integrity found, while the auditor’s own annual report shows it completed 42 performance audit reports in 2019-20, short of its target of 48.

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