Finance's key activities in 2020–21 have been delivered against the backdrop of the Government's response to, and recovery from, a global pandemic. During a year with a unique set of challenges that demanded responsiveness and agility, Finance continued to provide effective leadership and stewardship across the APS to support the broad aims of government.
As a central agency, Finance's ability to influence whole-of-government outcomes has enabled us to deliver ongoing value and improvements for the Government and the Australian community in line with our purpose in the 2020–21 Corporate Plan. This is outlined in the following highlights.
Advising on expenditure
The 2020–21 Budget was delivered under extraordinary circumstances, with the deferral of the Budget until 6 October 2020 adding an extra 147 days to the 2020–21 Budget process. For many Finance staff, this meant a sustained high pace of work since the 2019–20 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), including supporting the Government’s response to the bushfires over the 2019–20 summer. Finance maintained a fast pace throughout 2020–21, analysing, costing and advising on proposals to support the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.
The task was made particularly complex with the need to simultaneously update estimates for the Budget while managing the usual end-of-financial-year reporting, including the successful delivery of the Final Budget Outcome on 25 September 2020.
The 2020–21 Budget required considerable work on agreeing more than 2,500 costings, lodging 247 Green Briefs for the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet, preparing 301 measure descriptions, supporting agencies to produce their Portfolio Budget Statements, and contributing to the delivery of Budget Papers Numbers 1, 2 and 4 and the appropriation bills. Finance has also supported other portfolios with the development of special appropriations related to COVID-19 response measures.
Public sector resourcing and transformation
Finance achieved the 2020–21 Budget requirement that all material non-corporate Commonwealth entities be enabled to receive e-Invoices by 1 July 2021. Finance is assisting to raise awareness among Australian businesses that Commonwealth agencies have the capability to receive e-Invoices through purchase orders.
Over 2020–21, Finance worked closely with NBN Co and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications to implement the Government’s decision to facilitate NBN Co raising up to $27.5 billion in private debt by 2024. NBN Co’s agreements with the Commonwealth were updated, and Finance ensured the terms and conditions were acceptable to the Commonwealth and continued to protect shareholders’ interests.
In 2021, we established a taskforce to lead the delivery of national purpose-built quarantine facilities on behalf of the Australian Government, including leading the planning, site feasibility studies and agreement with the Victorian Government for a facility in Melbourne. The program was later expanded to include agreements to build national quarantine facilities in Western Australia and Queensland.
The national quarantine facilities are expected to be constructed during 2021–22. Finance leveraged our project management, property, procurement and commercial capability and expertise, and assembled expertise from a range of Commonwealth agencies to expedite the early delivery of the Government’s commitment to standalone quarantine facilities that provide a high standard of infection control and prevention, and which are consistent with the Government’s Key Assessment Criteria. The centres will provide a long-term national resilience capability, including providing an option for quarantine in the future, as well as for emergency management and other future uses.
Finance is leading the establishment and ongoing management of a new Whole-of-Australian-Government Management Advisory Services Consultancy Panel to improve the quality, consistency and efficiency of management advisory services. The Panel is being established in three phases. In 2020–21, financial management advisory services (Phase 1) became available, and the tender was released for corporate management advisory services (Phase 2). Commercial management advisory services (Phase 3) will commence in 2022–23.
Finance and the Australian Office of Financial Management jointly established a new cash management account with the Reserve Bank of Australia in 2020–21 to improve effectiveness and efficiency in managing Commonwealth cash. The Department implemented the automation of a range of critical end-of-financial-year cash management functions, resulting in benefits including Commonwealth agencies accessing their appropriations earlier, and reducing time-intensive work and the risk of human error.
At the end of 2020–21, the Department’s GovTEAMS PROTECTED service transitioned to full production with nearly 700 users from 24 government agencies. This allows secure collaboration at the ‘Protected’ level, as well as secure communication in real time and from virtually anywhere, at any time. It also allows seamless work with colleagues across government and industry, using modern and digital work practices.
Delivering effective services to, and for, government
The Department made significant progress in 2020–21 in delivering shared services across the Commonwealth. Finance’s Service Delivery Office implemented travel and expense management for six client agencies, standardising and streamlining expense and corporate travel management for staff, while supporting compliance and audit risk.
In 2020–21, the Shared Services Program developed a demonstration version of the GovERP solution that will be used by the majority of Australian public servants to support more efficient corporate services for the Commonwealth. This version was used to test and confirm functionality and requirements, and will provide the foundation for the GovERP template. This template will be built once and rolled out to agencies from 2023, providing for the re-use of the Government’s investment in a shared enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.
Finance continued its work on enhancing the Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS), releasing increased self-service functions for parliamentarians and their staff, enabling access to apply for additional leave types, to maintain personal information, and to manage authorisations in the one system. 2020–21 has seen increased use of PEMS by parliamentarians and their staff for office and travel expense claims.
In the 2020–21 Budget, Finance was tasked with enhancing the Government’s commercial focus to facilitate more widespread use of commercial investment and procurement models in delivering policy outcomes. Finance will continue to support agencies to consider the benefits of commercial financing and to create opportunities for partnership with the private sector in delivering government priorities.
Finance established a new web-based guide to support the operational set-up of new Commonwealth entities after their legal establishment. The guide contains key contact information for those entities responsible for legislation, policies, frameworks and processes that a Commonwealth entity needs to apply. This enhances the Commonwealth's ability to start delivering new activities quickly.
In February 2021, Finance commenced a two-year trial to assess the viability of fully electric vehicles for future COMCAR fleets, assessing associated infrastructure, costs and operational capability requirements for COMCAR operations nationally. This initiative supports the Government’s commitment to reducing emissions in the road transport sector, including through the Future Fuels Strategy.