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External scrutiny

Reports by the Auditor-General, parliamentary committees or Commonwealth Ombudsman

During the reporting period, no reports were made by the Auditor-General or by a committee of either house of parliament regarding the operations of the agency.

In March 2020, the ABCC made a submission to the Senate Economics Committee Inquiry into unlawful underpayment of employees’ remuneration. Submissions are available on the Parliament of Australia website at www.aph.gov.au. The committee’s deadline to report to the Senate has been extended to June 2021.

Section 65(6) of the BCIIP Act provides that the Commonwealth Ombudsman must prepare and present to parliament a report about examinations conducted by the ABC Commissioner. The reports must include the results of reviews conducted.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman tabled seven quarterly reports pursuant to section 65(6) during the reporting period.

On 22 July 2019, the Ombudsman tabled reports for the periods:

  • 1 January to 31 March 2018
  • 1 April to 30 June 2018
  • 1 July to 30 September 2018
  • 1 October to 31 December 2018.

On 8 April 2020, the Ombudsman tabled reports for the periods:

  • 1 January to 31 March 2019
  • 1 April to 30 June 2019
  • 1 July to 30 September 2019.

Significant judicial decisions

Examination notices

On 6 March 2020, the Federal Court dismissed a judicial challenge to an examination notice issued by the AAT pursuant to section 61B of the BCIIP Act. The notice required the applicant to attend an examination before the ABC Commissioner to answer questions relevant to an investigation.

The applicant (the proposed examinee) submitted that the examination notice was invalid because, among other things, it failed to reveal whether the investigation was into a matter that the ABC Commissioner was entitled to investigate and did not allow the applicant to ascertain what questions are relevant to the investigation.

The Federal Court affirmed the validity of the examination notice issued by the AAT and dismissed the applicant’s challenge (Ehrke v ABCC [2020] FCA 267). Justice Rangiah ruled that the questions do not have to be disclosed until the applicant attends for the examination, and the particulars in the examination notice were adequate to allow a number of questions to be asked that would be obviously relevant to the suspected contraventions. The Court also held that Form 3, which is the prescribed statutory form for an examination notice, ‘expressly and comprehensively sets out the matters required to be included’.

Capability reviews

No capability reviews of the entity were conducted during the reporting period.

Freedom of information

Entities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) are required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act. Each agency must display on its website a plan showing what information it publishes in accordance with the IPS requirements.

The ABCC has published an agency plan that describes how the ABCC proposes to implement and administer the IPS. The agency plan is available on the ABCC website at www.abcc.gov.au/about/access-information/freedom-information/information-publication-scheme.

The ABCC received seven freedom of information requests during the reporting period.

Regulator Performance Framework

The Australian Government established the Regulator Performance Framework (RPF) as part of the government’s commitment to reducing the cost of unnecessary or inefficient regulation imposed on individuals, business and community organisations by at least $1 billion a year.

The RPF encourages regulators to undertake functions and achieve objectives with minimum impact on the regulated community by measuring and publicly reporting performance against a common set of six KPIs.

The ABCC’s self-assessments against the RPF are subject to external scrutiny by the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council. The KPIs for the ABCC’s RPF are available at www.abcc.gov.au together with the self-assessment reports.

Ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance

Australian Government agencies are required to report on their performance in relation to the environment and ecologically sustainable development, in line with section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The ABCC implements best practice in environmental management and ecological sustainability to ensure the most efficient use of energy resources possible. This includes purchasing office equipment with low energy use and with power-saving modes, using Australian Forestry Standard certified printer paper for internal use, and recycling used printer toner cartridges. End-of-life information technology equipment, including printers, computers and mobile phones, are recycled.

The ABCC continues to focus on the transition to Digital Continuity 2020 targets by facilitating and promoting the use of electronic records. This has resulted in a reduction in the consumption of paper during the reporting period, with internal data showing a 45 per cent decrease in paper usage compared with the same months in the previous reporting period (July to March to account for COVID-19 office shutdowns).

The use of video conferencing facilities continues to be promoted, reducing the need for staff to travel and lessening the environmental impact of the agency. The capability of the agency to work remotely by utilising new technologies was illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic period and this may lead to further reductions in the agency’s environmental impact.

The ABCC procures fleet vehicles in accordance with the environmental efficiency requirements of Australian Government policies. During the reporting period, the ABCC reduced its vehicle fleet from 16 to 14 vehicles and replaced eight vehicles with new hybrid models. Bicycle parking is also available at each of the ABCC offices.