By Sally Whyte, originally published by the Canberra Times on October 6th
More than a billion dollars has been cut from the budgets of government agencies responsible for various accountability measures over the past 10 years, according to the Centre for Public Integrity.
Following a plea from the Auditor-General for more funding for the national audit office, the new analysis shows agencies including the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Office of the Australian Commissioner are among those also facing reductions.
According to analysis from the think tank, the board of which is made up of former judicial officers and academics, the funding of the institutions, which also includes the CSIRO, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Fair Work Commission and Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission, has dropped by $1.4 billion in real terms since 2010.
In 2010-11, the combined institutions had funding of $4.07 billion, which dropped to $3.5 billion in 2019-20.
Director of the Centre for Public Integrity Geoffrey Watson SC, a barrister and former counsel assisting at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption said such institutions are “the bedrock of our democracy.
“Without strong, independent, and well-resourced accountability institutions the role of government cannot be properly scrutinised,” he said.
“More funding is needed across the board to ensure accountability institutions can uphold integrity and the rule of law.”
At the same time as the complexity and volume of work for many of these bodies has increased, funding has decreased.
The Australian National Audit Office missed its target of 48 performance audits for 2019-20, completing just 42, due to funding constraints. Auditor-General has warned the targets will continue to be missed without more funding, which has been cut by $23.7 million since 2016-17.
Public broadcaster the ABC was included in the accountability institutions, with its budget cuts adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The budget of the Human Rights Commission is just $2 million above what it was 10 years ago, at $27.4 million, a drop from a peak of $36.5 million in 2015-16.
Some agencies, like Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, show an increase in funding over the past 10 years, but the Centre for Public Integrity says this hasn’t kept up with the 13 per cent increase in Freedom of Information Requests made to the government since 2017.
The spending on these institutions as a proportion of the budget has dropped from 1.14 per cent in 2010-11 to just 0.6 per cent last year.
The government has promised a federal anti-corruption body, but legislation has not been introduced to parliament since a draft structure was released in late 2018, with its development delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.