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Corporate management and accountability
The Auditor-General tabled a performance audit on the department’s delivery of consular services and five cross-agency audits of relevance to the department. The department’s six-monthly reporting to the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) on follow-up action taken in response to Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reports is now a well-established mechanism.
Report No. 1: Commonwealth Assistance to the Agrifood Industry
This audit focused on the administration of Commonwealth assistance to the agrifood industry. While acknowledging significant improvement across key agencies, the ANAO recommended further strengthening of planning and reporting frameworks. We have implemented the recommendations to ensure that our performance information provides more meaningful measurement and assessment of outcomes.
Report No. 19: Management of Public Sector Travel Arrangements
This audit examined the management of travel in the APS, following up two earlier audits of travel undertaken in 1997–98. The ANAO made 13 recommendations. We have addressed 11 of them and are considering options for the remaining two.
Report No. 31: Administration of Consular Services
This performance audit focused on the department’s delivery of consular services. The report, based on a ‘snapshot’ from May 2000 to March 2001, confirmed the priority the department gives to its consular goal. The audit coincided with significant reforms that have seen the ANAO’s recommendations largely addressed. The ANAO noted that almost all recommendations of the 1997 Senate Committee inquiry had already been conclusively addressed, and the department was able subsequently to confirm full implementation of all the Senate Committee recommendations.
The audit specifically acknowledged improvements to consular accessibility (for instance, through the 24-hour Consular Operations Centre). It also noted improvements to the quantity and coverage of travel advice and public information, and the increased importance we attach to providing consular services at overseas posts. The review made some suggestions for improvements in management processes and administrative systems supporting the provision of consular services. These issues have been largely dealt with. Further information on the audit is at output 2.1 on page 148.
Report No. 38: The Use of Confidentiality Provisions in Commonwealth
The audit’s main objectives were: to examine the guidance on the use of confidentiality clauses in contracts and agencies’ use of such clauses to develop criteria to determine what contract information is confidential; and to assess the effectiveness of the existing accountability and disclosure arrangements for Commonwealth contracts. We agreed with and are taking advice on implementing the recommendations—notably for provisions in tender documentation to alert prospective contractors to public accountability responsibilities.
Report No. 52: Payment of Accounts
The main objectives of the audit were to determine whether organisations had implemented appropriate risk management strategies for the processing of accounts and whether payment for goods and services had been properly authorised. While the department was not one of the eight agencies included in the audit, we are reviewing the nine recommendations (in the report tabled in Parliament on 18 June 2001) with a view to implementation.
Report No. 53: Commonwealth Management of Leased Office Property
The audit’s main objectives were to develop a benchmark of property management performance among FMA Act agencies and to form an opinion on whether the agencies reviewed: manage leased property in accordance with the requirements of the Act and other official guidance; and manage their leased office property effectively. The audit included a critical case study on the department’s property lease arrangements. The department agreed with, and is implementing, the two recommendations resulting from the case study (see ‘Domestic property’ on page 213).
Courts and administrative tribunals
Four long-running legal matters were finalised during the reporting year, none of which had or will have a significant impact on the department’s operations. Details of these matters and other matters currently before the courts and administrative tribunals are at Appendix 8.
The department made submissions or gave evidence to 11 parliamentary committee inquiries in 2000–01, details of which are at Appendix 7.
The process for all portfolio-related legislation was managed effectively. The department was among the first to introduce to Parliament a bill to ensure portfolio legislation was consistent with the Criminal Code, prompting a letter of congratulations from the Minister for Justice and Customs. The Foreign Affairs and Trade Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001 was assented to on 28 April 2001. The department obtained exemptions of certain portfolio legislation from the application of the Electronic Transactions Act 1999.