Chapter 13 External Scrutiny

The Department’s operations are subject to scrutiny from external entities, including the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), the Commonwealth Ombudsman and parliamentary committees.

Reports by the Australian National Audit Office

FaHCSIA’s operations were subject to external audit by the ANAO during 2010–11. The Auditor‑General tabled four audit reports in Parliament that were directly relevant to departmental operations. The reports were associated with government business managers in the Northern Territory, Army assistance to Aboriginal communities, Indigenous housing initiatives, and home ownership on Indigenous land.

The ANAO also tabled three cross-agency audit reports that included FaHCSIA’s operations as an element of the evaluation. FaHCSIA formally responds to ANAO reports in writing, and the ANAO includes the responses in its reports. The ANAO makes its reports available on the ANAO website.

Reports by the Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Department works with the Commonwealth Ombudsman to assist in the resolution of issues identified in complaints in relation to FaHCSIA funded service provision or FaHCSIA administrative processes.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman received 131 approaches about the Department in 2010–11, a decrease of 52 approaches compared with 2009–10. Of the approaches, 40 were by telephone, 12 in writing, 66 in person, 9 by email, 0 by fax and 4 through the Ombudsman’s online complaints form.

During 2010–11, the Commonwealth Ombudsman closed 216 matters (relating to FaHCSIA). In four of these matters, a finding of administrative deficiency was recorded.

Judicial decisions

Federal Court

There was one judicial decision of major significance to the Department in 2010–11.

In Poniatowska v DPP (Cth) (2010) 271 ALR 610; [2010] SASCFC 19, the full court of the Supreme Court of South Australia (majority decision) indicated that in prosecuting a case under section 135.2 of the Crimes Act 1914, not only does the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions have to prove that the person failed to inform the Department of a change in circumstances, but it also has to show that the person had a legal duty to do so. This matter is currently the subject of a High Court appeal.

The Australian Parliament has recently passed legislation to protect the integrity of the social security system. The legislation, among other things, inserts a standalone obligation for a person to inform the Department of events or changes of circumstances that might affect the payment of a social security payment to the person or the person’s qualification for a concession card.

Administrative tribunal decisions

Outside of the matters dealt with by Centrelink, no decisions of an administrative tribunal have had a significant impact on the operations of the Department during 2010–11.

Centrelink is responsible for the management of the review of decisions for FaHCSIA and other departments. In consultation with the relevant portfolio departments, Centrelink considers decisions made by the Social Security Appeals Tribunal to determine whether, based on issues of fact or law, the decision should be appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. For information about the review of decisions made by Centrelink, see Centrelink’s annual report.

Reports by parliamentary committees

The portfolio appeared before the Senate Community Affairs Committee Estimates inquiry on three occasions during 2010–11. The portfolio also gave evidence and/or made submissions to a number of parliamentary committee inquiries. These are summarised below.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics—Inquiry into Indigenous economic development in Queensland and review of the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics examined the scope for increasing sustainable Indigenous economic development in Queensland including in the Cape York region. The committee had regard to the aspirations of Indigenous people and the social and cultural context surrounding their participation in the economy.

Witnesses from the Department attended a public hearing on 26 November 2010. The committee tabled its report on 12 May 2011.

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee—Inquiry into the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquired into the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011.

The Department provided a written submission to the committee and appeared before it on 27 April 2011. The committee tabled its report on 10 May 2011.

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee—Commonwealth Commissioner for Children and Young People Bill 2010

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquired into the Commonwealth Commissioner for Children and Young People Bill 2010.

This private senator’s bill sought to establish an independent statutory office of Commonwealth Commissioner for Children and Young People, to advocate at a national level for the needs, rights and views of people below the age of 18.

The Department appeared before the committee on 30 March 2011 and prepared an answer to a question taken on notice during the hearing. The committee tabled its report on 12 May 2011.

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee—Inquiry into Schedule 4 of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010

The Department provided a written submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into Schedule 4 of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010.

Schedule 4 sought to amend the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 to include a power for the Minister to make guidelines that would apply to the Indigenous Land Corporation when it performs its functions to support native title settlement.

The committee tabled its report on 9 February 2011.

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee—Review of Government Compensation Payments

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquired into the administration and effectiveness of current mechanisms used by federal and state and territory governments to provide discretionary payments in special circumstances, or to provide financial relief from amounts owing to governments, namely:

The Department provided a written submission to the committee.

The Department appeared before the committee on 29 October 2010 and prepared answers to questions taken on notice during the hearing. The committee tabled its report on 6 December 2010.

Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee—Inquiry into the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquired into the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011.

The Department appeared before the committee on 15 June 2011 and prepared answers to questions taken on notice during the hearing. The committee tabled its report on 22 June 2011.

Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee—Inquiry into Schedule 2 of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010 (Changes to Disability Support Pension)

The Department provided a written submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into Schedule 2 of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010. This schedule sought to introduce an ongoing requirement for residence in Australia for a Disability Support Pension.

The Department appeared before the committee on 15 November 2010 and prepared answers to questions taken on notice during the hearing. The committee tabled its report on 22 November 2010.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee—Inquiry into Planning Options and Services for People Ageing with a Disability

The Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquired into access to options for and services to assist people with disability and their carers to plan for the future, including:

The Department appeared before the committee on 8 November 2010 and 18 February 2011 and prepared answers to questions taken on notice during the hearings. The committee has yet to table its report.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee—Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices

In April 2011, the Department provided a written submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee in relation to its inquiry into the role, if any, of the Commonwealth Government, its policies and practices in contributing to forced adoptions and the potential role of the Commonwealth in developing a national framework to assist states and territories to address the consequences for the mothers, their families and children who were subject to forced adoption policies.

The committee has yet to table its report.

Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform—Inquiry into pre-commitments scheme

On 30 September 2010, the Parliament agreed that a Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform would be appointed to inquire into and report on:

The committee was also requested to make recommendations to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Assistant Treasurer, to inform any position that the Commonwealth will take to the COAG Select Council on Gambling Reform.

Witnesses from the Department appeared before the committee on 15 February 2011. The committee tabled its report on 6 May 2011.

Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform—Inquiry into interactive and online gambling and gambling advertising

On 30 June 2011, the Department provided a submission to the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform in relation to its inquiry into interactive and online gambling and gambling advertising.

The committee has yet to table its report.

Joint Standing Committee on Treaties—Review into Treaties

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties reviews and reports on all treaties proposed by the Government before action that binds Australia to the terms of the treaty is taken.

On 25 February 2011, the Department appeared before the committee for the Agreement between Australia and the Slovak Republic on Social Security. The committee tabled its report on 14 June 2011, recommending that binding treaty action be taken.

Joint Standing Committee of Public Accounts and Audit—Review of Auditor-General’s Reports Nos. 39 (2009/10) to 15 (2010/11)

The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit examines all of the reports of the Auditor-General tabled in Parliament.

The Department appeared before the committee on 3 March 2011 to give evidence in relation to the Auditor-General’s Report No. 11 2010–11 on direct source procurement. The Department also prepared answers to questions taken on notice during the hearing.

The committee has yet to table its report.

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