New parliamentary resources framework
In August 2015 the Australian Government established a committee to consider options for implementing an independent parliamentary entitlements system.
Some members of the PBR team
Back row L-R: Kev Whitton, Kim baker, Jon Box
Front row: David McKay, Emma Lindfield, Rebekah Barrett, Catherine Sainsbery, Krista Vane-Tempest
The committee delivered its findings, in its report entitled 'An Independent Parliamentary Entitlements System', in February 2016. The report made a number of recommendations about reforming how parliamentarians access and are accountable for their use of public resources in conducting parliamentary business. Key recommendations included establishing a principles-based framework for access to resources, and increasing emphasis on transparency and accountability.
The Government accepted in principle the recommendations made by the committee, and the Department of Finance has had primary responsibility for implementing those recommendations in conjunction with other key stakeholders such as the Remuneration Tribunal (which has particular statutory functions relating to parliamentarians' remuneration).
In January 2017, the Government also announced its intention to establish the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) as a compliance, reporting and transparency body with oversight of the work expenses of parliamentarians.
To give effect to these decisions, the Commonwealth Parliament has enacted 2 significant new laws this year, the Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 (the PBR Act) and the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority Act 2017 (the IPEA Act).
The PBR Act will commence on a day to be fixed by proclamation, and will play a key role in implementing the committee's recommendations. The PBR Act provides for a new parliamentary expenses framework and establishes overarching accountability mechanisms. Key features include the creation of obligations on parliamentarians to act in good faith in their use of public resources, to claim or use public resources only for the dominant purpose of their parliamentary business, and to ensure their use of public resources provides value for money for the Commonwealth.
To support the commencement of the new PBR scheme, the Department is working in conjunction with the Remuneration Tribunal and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to translate the large number of existing instruments that set out the detail of the transition from the current parliamentary entitlements to the new more streamlined and principles-based framework, in line with the committee's recommendations.
The IPEA Act commenced on 1 July 2017. IPEA's various functions, set out in s 12 of that Act, include general oversight of payment and accountability for parliamentarians' use of travel entitlements. In managing IPEA's establishment, the Department dealt with issues involved with the movement of staff to IPEA, and instructed the Office of Parliamentary Counsel on drafting the IPEA Act.
IPEA will perform functions in respect of the current parliamentary entitlements scheme until the PBR scheme commences, at which time amendments to the IPEA Act will also commence to give effect to IPEA's transition to the new PBR framework.
AGS has provided legal support to the Department over the course of the project. Lawyers in the Office of General Counsel including Guy Aitken QC (Chief General Counsel), Leo Hardiman (Deputy General Counsel), Olivia Abbott (Senior General Counsel), David Lewis (Senior General Counsel), and Elizabeth Southwood (Counsel) advised on various issues relating to the establishment of IPEA and the development of legislation to give effect to the new framework. More recently, Catherine Sainsbery (Counsel) has been seconded to the Department's in-house legal area to assist with more detailed work on the new PBR instruments.
Guy Aitken QC