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Part 3.6: External Scrutiny and Compliance

External Scrutiny

Parliamentary scrutiny

The Department appears before parliamentary committees to answer questions about our administration of health, aged care and sport programs.

During 2018-19, the Department received 26 Parliamentary Questions on Notice from the House of Representatives and the Senate, and 774 Senate Estimates Questions on Notice.

Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit reviews

During 2018-19, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) tabled two reviews involving the Department:

  • JCPAA Report No. 472 – Commonwealth Procurement – Second Report (October 2018): Procurement of the National Cancer Screening Register (ANAO Audit Report No. 61 2016-17).
  • JCPAA Report No. 476 – Australian Government Funding (February 2019): Primary Healthcare Grants under the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program (ANAO Audit Report No. 50 2017-18).
Senate Estimates hearings

During 2018-19, the Department appeared before the Community Affairs Legislation Committee:

  • Supplementary Budget Estimates – 24 October 2018;
  • Additional Estimates – 20 February 2019; and
  • Budget Estimates – 5 and 10 April 2019.

The Department also appeared before the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for the Cross Portfolio Indigenous hearings:

  • Supplementary Budget Estimates – 26 October 2018; and
  • Additional Estimates – 22 February 2019.

Parliamentary Committee inquiries

The Department provided evidence and/or submissions to the following Parliamentary Committee inquiries.


Evidence/submission provided

Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee

  • Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018 and related Bill.
  • My Health Records Amendment (Strengthening Privacy) Bill 2018.
  • Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 and related Bills.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee

  • Effectiveness of the Aged Care Quality Assessment and accreditation framework for protecting residents from abuse and poor practices, and ensuring proper clinical and medical care standards are maintained and practiced.
  • Support for Australia’s thalidomide survivors.
  • Accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia.
  • My Health Record system.

Senate Economics References Committee

  • Financial and tax practices of for-profit aged care providers.

Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee

  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee

  • Criminal Code and Other Legislation Amendment

(Removing Commonwealth Restrictions on Cannabis) Bill 2018.

Senate Select Committee

  • Obesity Epidemic in Australia.
  • Stillbirth Research and Education.

Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport

  • 2017-18 Annual Reports of the Department of Health and Australian Hearing.
  • Sleep Health Awareness in Australia.
  • Advisory Report on the Aged Care Amendment (Staffing Ratio Disclosure) Bill 2018.
  • Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care Facilities in Australia.
  • Biotoxin-related Illnesses in Australia.

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee

  • Management of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in and around Defence bases.

Freedom of Information

In 2018-19, the Department received 434 Freedom of Information requests.

Entities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 are required, under Part II of the Act, to publish information as part of the Information Publication Scheme. Information including an Agency Plan showing what information is published, is available on the Department’s website, available at: www.health.gov.au/about-us/corporate-reporting/freedom-of-information-foi

Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audits

The Department works closely with the ANAO to provide responses to proposed audit findings and recommendations prior to the Auditor-General presenting his reports to Parliament.

During 2018-19, the ANAO tabled two audits involving the Department, detailed below. The Department agreed to all audit recommendations made with related implementation activities either underway or completed.

Audits specific to the Department


Australian Government funding of public hospital services – risk management, data monitoring and reporting arrangements

Published – 15 February 2019

Performance audit (Auditor-General Report No.26 of 2018-19)


To assess the effectiveness of risk management, data monitoring and public reporting arrangements associated with the Australian Government’s funding of public hospital services under the 2011 National Health Reform Agreement.


Recommendation 1. The Department of Health:

  1. work with relevant state government entities to reach agreement on the appropriate data monitoring analysis roles for the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority and National Health Funding Body; and
  2. incorporate the agreed roles into the revised National Health Reform Agreement currently under negotiation.

Recommendation 2. The Department of Health:

  1. identify and prevent potential duplicate payments, including Medicare Benefits Schedule payments, by the Australian Government for public hospital services; and
  2. identify and recover past duplicate payments to the maximum extent permitted by law.

Recommendation 3. The Department of Health seek the agreement of states to implement reporting arrangements that provide transparency on whether state governments are maintaining public hospital services funding levels in accordance with National Health Reform Agreement obligations.


Application of cost recovery principles

Published – 14 May 2019

Performance audit (Auditor-General Report No.38 of 2018-19)


To assess whether selected regulatory entities effectively apply the cost recovery principles of the Australian Government’s cost recovery framework. The selected regulatory entities were the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Department of Health (Therapeutic Goods Administration).


Recommendation 1. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and Department of Health:

  1. ensure that their Cost Recovery Implementation Statements are fully compliant with the Cost Recovery Guidelines, including in relation to required updates; and
  2. report annually in their Cost Recovery Implementation Statements on their cost recovery performance at the regulatory activity level.

Recommendation 5. The Department of Health:

  1. implements a consistent quality assured approach for the collection of staff effort data for use in the cost recovery model of the Therapeutic Goods Administration;
  2. adjusts charges to reduce cross-subsidisation across industry sectors; and
  3. further reviews the cross-subsidisation of fee-free services and seeks a decision from the Government on how the cost of the services should be met.

Recommendation 6. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of Health:

  1. implement ongoing stakeholder engagement strategies for their respective cost recovery arrangements in consultation with stakeholders;
  2. include these planned engagement strategies in their draft Cost Recovery Implementation Statement each year; and
  3. include performance measures for engagement on cost recovery in their Cost Recovery Implementation Statements.

Judicial decisions, decisions of administrative tribunals and decisions of the Information Commissioner

During 2018-19, the Department was involved in:

  • one matter in the Full Federal Court;
  • 13 matters in the Federal Court;
  • one matter in the Supreme Court of NSW;
  • one matter in the District Court;
  • 25 matters in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal; and
  • 14 Freedom of Information review requests with the Information Commissioner.

The Department was not involved in any matters in the High Court in 2018-19.

Reports by the Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Department continues to liaise with the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office) on complaints relating to aspects of the Department’s administrative activities.

During 2018-19, the Office completed two preliminary inquiries (section 7A of the Ombudsman Act 1976) and undertook six investigations (section 8 of the Ombudsman Act 1976). Four of these were finalised under section 12 of the Ombudsman Act 1976. None of these investigations resulted in a finding of administrative deficiency. Two investigations were carried over to 2019-20.

Anyone with concerns about the Department’s actions or decision-making is encouraged to make a complaint with the Office to determine whether the Department was wrong, unjust, discriminatory or unfair. Further information on the role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is available at www.ombudsman.gov.au

Tobacco Plain Packaging

The Department has responsibility to investigate and enforce the legislation, on behalf of the Commonwealth, which requires that all tobacco products sold in Australia must be in plain packaging and be labelled with health warnings.

The Department, pursuant to section 108 of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, reports that 135 potential contraventions of this Act were investigated in 2018-19 and 63 warning letters were issued.

A copy of this report has been provided to the Minister for Health.

The Human Services (Medicare) Act 1973

The Human Services (Medicare) Act 1973 provides for the Chief Executive Medicare to authorise the exercise of powers requiring a person to give information or to produce a document that is in the person’s custody, or under the person’s control and the power to obtain a statutory report under Section 42 of the Human Services (Medicare) Act 1973. The table below outlines the number of times powers were exercised in 2018-19.

Section 42(1) paragraphs (a) to (h)


the number of signed instruments made under section 8M;



the number of notices in writing given under section 8P;



the number of notices in writing given to individual patients under section 8P;



the number of premises entered under section 8U;



the number of occasions when powers were used under section 8V;



the number of search warrants issued under section 8Y;



the number of search warrants issued by telephone or other electronic means under section 8Z; and



the number of patients advised in writing under section 8ZN.


Legal services expenditure

The table below outlines the Department’s legal services expenditure for 2018-19, in compliance with paragraph 11.1(ba) of the Legal Services Directions 2017.


2018-19 cost

$’m (excluding GST)

Total external legal services expenditure


Total internal legal services expenditure