As CEO of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA), it is a privilege to lead the agency as it matures as a regulatory and integrity organisation. I am delighted to have been reappointed to a further term to continue the work we started and build upon our firm foundations.
The 2019–20 year began much as any other, but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it dramatically changed and we took the opportunity to reflect on and modify how we worked. IPEA has consistently invested in our culture and this was well rewarded in these difficult circumstances. The dedication and adaptability of the staff at IPEA was outstanding and we consistently met our high quality services to parliamentarians, their staff and the Australian public. The ability of IPEA to assess and then quickly pivot to a new paradigm is an example of the public service at its best. This is a testament to the hard work put in before COVID-19 and the commitment and flexibility of all IPEAns.
As IPEA starts the new decade, I am pleased with the continuing evolution of IPEA as an organisation. We continue the focus on providing parliamentarians and their staff with the necessary services to undertake their critical role in Australia’s democracy. This focus is balanced with the Australian public’s expectation that taxpayers’ funds are spent for their legislated purpose and represent value for money.
Organisational maturity is a self-paced journey that varies depending on the size of the organisation, its industry, the reason for its existence and the legislative requirements in which it operates. The coming year provides opportunities for reflection for IPEA as the legislation on which IPEA is founded, is reviewed. The review of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority Act 2017, along with the concurrent review of the Parliamentary Business Resources Act 2017 are well timed to also consider the observations arising from a planned performance audit by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).
For parliamentarians to fulfil their responsibilities to their democratically elected office they necessarily have office-related and travel-related work expenses. In a country the size of Australia, they need to travel regularly to meet with other parliamentarians and their constituents. There are a range of logistical challenges in balancing personal and family lives and professional commitments within the requirements of the legislative frameworks. To comply with the legislation their decisions must, amongst other requirements, be for the dominant purpose of parliamentary business and provide value for money. IPEA continues to provide oversight of travel expenses for parliamentarians and their staff, including definitive personal advice on the application of the legislative principles. IPEA also continues to provide transparency and assurance for the public on all work expenses through our reporting and audit functions.
The Members of the Authority lend extensive expertise and experience to IPEA. They are committed to the organisation and provide valuable support, particularly to the executive leadership team. I continue to appreciate the positive and active working relationship with all Members and especially our Chair, Ms Jillian Segal AO.
Highlights and achievements:
Education, engagement and innovation continued as important areas of focus for IPEA through 2019–20. The aim of this work, when combined with reporting and auditing of work expenses, is to ensure the use of taxpayer funds aligns with the legislated obligations and purpose.
Education and engagement
In consultation with stakeholders, IPEA developed education and guidance material and, in response to changing needs, provided it in a variety of formats. IPEA also developed an online training package called IPEA-ED to provide an explanation of the travel principles. IPEA maintained high levels of client engagement through:
Information sessions—reaching out to parliamentarians and their staff in several capital cities to assist them to understand the principles based framework
Meetings with parliamentarians—meeting with all new parliamentarians and their staff following their appointment and scheduled follow up meetings as required. Other meetings with key stakeholders formed part of our regular engagement package
Client feedback—conducting a second client satisfaction survey with parliamentarians and their staff to provide a robust measure of overall satisfaction with IPEA’s information and services
Providing responsive and high quality personal advice—recording 10,273 individual client contacts during 2019–20 and responded to 98.4 per cent within IPEA’s service level standards.
Innovation award and cross-jurisdictional innovative thinking
IPEA’s innovative approach to education and engagement with parliamentarians and their staff was recognised by the Institute of Public Administration Australia in 2019. IPEA won the Public Sector Innovation award in the category of culture and capability for IPEA-ED.
This exciting training methodology includes a dedicated mobile platform with supporting material and video content while providing easy-access education anywhere, anytime for parliamentarians and their staff on their obligations when spending public funds.
IPEA continued to be at the leading edge of innovation and thinking in parliamentary expense management through its ongoing engagement with other jurisdictions, both domestic and international. This interaction provided a two-way flow of information where all parties can share and leverage mutual experiences. Drawing on the expertise of other regulatory agencies with similar responsibilities, and sharing our knowledge and approaches with them, helps shape services and processes.
IPEA continued to engage with the International Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) in the United Kingdom, as well as other countries including Canada, Wales and New Zealand. Contact is made through teleconferences and video hook ups, as well as direct engagement.
IPEA the organisation and COVID-19
During the year we continued developing the IPEA-specific organisational culture based on trust. This trusting culture and positive environment supports the open flow of ideas and energy, respect for people and process and a learning mindset. These in turn, enable IPEA to focus on positive and high performing delivery across all of our statutory functions. The task of embedding our culture continues as IPEA matures as an organisation.
Within our operating environment we aim to innovatively pursue opportunities, adopt new technology, achieve objectives and meet our responsibilities. The integrity of our people and the security and accuracy of the information we hold are critical to our success. In particular, IPEA encourages staff to behave with honesty and integrity and is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of all IPEAns.
The investment in developing an IPEA-specific culture paid dividends during the pandemic, when over 90 per cent of staff worked remotely. Significant levels of trust, engagement and goodwill were evident and enabled IPEA to quickly pivot to new ways of working and continue to provide the same high standards clients have come to expect. I am delighted in the manner in which IPEA delivered core services during this period.
Due to the pandemic some sessions of Parliament were cancelled, resulting in reduced travel to Canberra by parliamentarians and their staff. While travel by air reduced dramatically, parliamentarians and their staff were still travelling, most of it within their electorates and predominantly by self-drive hire cars or private vehicles.
Early assessment revealed that a majority of our legislated functions were critical to the on-going role of the Parliament. These functions support parliamentarians and their staff to undertake their respective roles and during this critical period, delivery of services to support these key stakeholders was considered paramount.
There were challenges associated with staff working remotely and although some activities were delayed, through the efforts of the IPEA management team and staff, we maintained our high standards of service delivery throughout this period.
Based on the Pandemic Contingency Plan, the executive management team and I met on a daily basis to keep up to date, monitor workloads and develop ways to support staff.
IPEA continued to devise innovative ways to support our staff during the pandemic. Staff surveys revealed they felt well supported through the on-line weekly all-staff meetings, regular Branch meetings and executive updates. Staff also took the initiative to keep connected with buddy systems, theme days and staff newsletters, as well as virtual team based social activities including garden and art work tours and competitions.
Our priorities for the year
For the next year, IPEA has a number of priorities to ensure continued focus on the high quality provision of services to parliamentarians and their staff and continue the development of IPEA as a high performing organisation. These priorities include:
providing high quality services to parliamentarians and their staff and continuing wherever possible to meet or exceed expectations
focusing on education of our important stakeholders, including parliamentarians and their staff, through meetings, information sessions, a client satisfaction survey and tailor-made presentations
working with the Department of Finance to deliver the Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS) project to provide a purpose-built IT system, to facilitate and support IPEA’s administration, advisory, reporting and audit functions
fostering the development of IPEA’s unique culture through staff working groups, individual mentoring and development opportunities and social club activities.
Our financial performance
In 2019–20 IPEA operated within our appropriation. We reported an overall operating surplus of $0.514 million for the 2019–20 financial year. This result reflects lower levels of activity and decreased expenditure during the year because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. IPEA’s financial performance is available on pages 36 to 55.
IPEA continues to be a great place to work and our people are a core component. Their professionalism and dedication provide us with a unique competitive advantage. Our staff are delivering innovative, high quality and timely services. We place a high priority on staff development and as at 30 June 2020, IPEA had 59 employees engaged on either an ongoing or non-ongoing basis. As a small agency, we are committed to developing a flexible and agile workforce, providing career development opportunities wherever possible and continually maturing our functions to become more integrated and interdependent.
IPEA has established working groups, consultative forums and initiatives across areas including education, surge and succession capacity (shadowing), service level standards workshops and health and wellbeing forums.
I would like to acknowledge the Department of Finance who worked closely with IPEA to implement the principles based framework for parliamentarians’ work related expenses and assisted in meeting our broader APS related requirements.
I would like to thank parliamentarians and their staff for their continued engagement with us and for their ongoing support.
I acknowledge the hardworking, dedicated and professional IPEA staff who have ensured that our organisation continues to achieve success. This includes the executive team who challenge assumptions and lead the embedding of our IPEA culture. As previously highlighted, through all of this, I am very fortunate to have the support of our Members, and I am grateful for their engaged and considered guidance.