External scrutiny

​DAFF is subject to external scrutiny through parliamentary committees, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), courts, administrative tribunals, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner.

Inquiries by parliamentary committees

During the year, there were 24 parliamentary committee inquiries relevant to DAFF. In the case of some of these inquiries the department led or is leading the response. The inquiries were:

  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
    • Biosecurity and quarantine arrangements—established on 23 June 2010 and reported on 10 April 2012 (final report)
    • Inquiry into the effect on Australian pineapple growers of importing fresh pineapple from Malaysia—established on 20 June 2012, with a reporting date of 10 October 2012
    • Management of the Murray–Darling Basin—established on 28 October 2010, with a reporting date of 30 November 2011, extended to 12 September 2012
    • Operational issues in export grain networks—established on 23 March 2011 and reported on 16 April 2012
    • Examination of the Foreign Investment Review Board National Interest Test—established on 6 July 2011 with a reporting date of 30 November 2011, extended to 12 September 2012
  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
    • Animal welfare standards in Australia's live export markets—established on 16 June 2011 and reported on 23 November 2011
    • Quarantine Amendments (Disallowing Permits) Bill 2011—established on 15 September 2011 and reported on 2 November 2011
    • Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011—established on 25 November 2011 and reported on 27 February 2012
    • Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012—established on 22 March 2012 and reported on 25 June 2012
    • Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2012—established on 22 March 2012 and reported on 18 June 2012
  • Senate Select Committee on Australia's Food Processing Sector
    • Australia's food processing sector—established on 24 March 2011, with a reporting date of 30 June 2012, extended to 16 August 2012
  • Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications
    • Inquiry into the status, health and sustainability of Australia's koala population—established on 17 November 2010 and reported on 22 September 2011
  • Senate Economics References Committee
    • The impacts of supermarket price decisions on the dairy industry—established on 10 February 2011 and reported on 3 November 2011
  • Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee
    • All aspects of higher education and skills training to support future demand in agriculture and agribusiness in Australia—established on 19 September 2011 and reported on 21 June 2012
  • Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
    • The Indian Ocean region and Australia's foreign trade and defence policy—established on 24 November 2011, with a reporting date of 1 November 2012
  • Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
    • Inquiry into the Defence Trade Controls Bill 2011—established on 10 November 2011, with a reporting date of 12 April 2012, extended to 15 August 2012
  • House Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
    • Seeing the forest through the trees: inquiry into the Australian forestry industry—established on 7 February 2011 and reported on 23 November 2011
    • The role of science for fisheries and aquaculture—established on 21 March 2012, with a reporting date yet to be determined
    • Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012—established on 22 March 2012 and reported on 18 June 2012
  • House Standing Committee on Economics
    • Food Standards Amendment (Truth In Labelling—Palm Oil) Bill 2011—established on 7 July 2011 and reported on 19 September 2011
  • Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
    • Australia's trade and investment relationship with Japan and the Republic of Korea—established on 21 April 2011, with a reporting date yet to be determined
    • Inquiry into Australia's overseas representations—established on 13 September 2011, with a reporting date yet to be determined
    • Inquiry into the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011—established on 22 March 2012 and reported on 28 June 2012
  • Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity
    • Integrity of overseas Commonwealth law enforcement operations—established on 6 December 2011, with a reporting date yet to be determined.

Responses to inquiry reports

The government tabled responses to the following parliamentary committee reports in 2011–12 with input from DAFF:

  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
    • The Iraqi wheat debt (tabled 16 June 2005)
  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
    • Exposure draft and explanatory memorandum of the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 (tabled 25 November 2011)
  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
    • The science underpinning the inability to eradicate the Asian honey bee (tabled 15 November 2011)
    • Climate change and the Australian agricultural sector (tabled 15 November 2011)
  • Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
    • The extent and economic impact of salinity (tabled 12 April 2012)
  • Senate Economics References Committee
    • Impacts of supermarket price decisions on the dairy industry (tabled 3 February 2012).

Reports awaiting responses

The following parliamentary committee inquiry reports are awaiting responses from the government. DAFF is leading the preparation of these responses:

  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
    • Inquiry into the possible impact and consequences for public health, trade and agriculture of the government's decision to relax import restrictions on beef—final report (tabled 23 June 2010)
    • Inquiry into animal welfare standards in Australia's live export markets (tabled 23 November 2011)
    • Inquiry into biosecurity and quarantine arrangements—final report (tabled 10 April 2012)
    • Operational issues in export grain networks (tabled 16 April 2012)
  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
    • Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 (tabled 27 February 2012)
    • Quarantine Amendments (Disallowing permits) Bill 2011 (tabled 2 November 2011)
    • Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2012 (tabled 18 June 2012)
    • Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 (tabled 25 June 2012)
  • Senate Select Committee on Agricultural and Related Industries
    • Pricing and supply arrangements in the Australian and global fertiliser market (tabled 20 August 2009)
    • House Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry
    • The role of government in assisting Australian farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change (tabled 15 March 2010)
    • Australian forestry industry (tabled 23 November 2011)
    • Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 (tabled 18 June 2012)
  • Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
    • Inquiry into the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 (tabled 28 June 2012)

Other inquiry reports awaiting responses in which DAFF has an interest are:

  • Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
    • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Protecting Australia's Water Resources) Bill 2011 (tabled 27 February 2012)
  • Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
    • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (EmergencyListings) Bill 2011 (tabled 1 March 2012)
  • Senate Economics Legislation Committee
    • Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010 (tabled 16 June 2011)
    • Inquiry into Constitutional Corporation (Farm gate to Plate) Bill 2011 (tabled 25 November 2011)
  • Senate Environment and Communications References
    • The status, health and sustainability of Australia's koala population (tabled 22 September 2011)
  • Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee
    • Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Genetically Modified Material) Bill 2010 (tabled 24 August 2011)
  • Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
    • Matters relating to the Torres Strait region (tabled 26 November 2010).

Reports by the Auditor-General

During 2011–12, the Auditor-General tabled four ANAO reports dealing with the department's activities:

  • ANAO Audit Report 17: Audits of the financial statements of Australian Government entities for the period ended 30June 2011
  • ANAO Audit Report 36: Development and approval of grant program guidelines
  • ANAO Audit Report 46: Administration of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy
  • ANAO Audit Report 51: Interim phase of the audits of the financial statements of major general government sector agencies for the year ending 30 June 2012.

ANAO Audit Report 17: Audits of the financial statements of Australian Government entities for the period ended 30 June 2011

The report was tabled on 15 December 2011. The Auditor-General Act 1997 establishes the mandate for the Auditor-General to undertake financial statement audits of all Commonwealth entities, including government agencies, statutory authorities and government business enterprises. DAFF received an unqualified report.

ANAO Audit Report 36: Development and approval of grant program guidelines

The report was tabled on 30 May 2012. The objective of this cross-agency audit was to assess the implementation and effectiveness of the enhanced grants administration requirements relating to the development and approval of new grant guidelines and the revision of existing grant guidelines. The ANAO made four recommendations aimed at improving Commonwealth agency grant development and approval processes. We agreed with all recommendations.

ANAO Audit Report 46: Administration of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy

The report was tabled on 20 June 2012. The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the department's administration of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. The ANAO made three recommendations aimed at improving the quality of information used by the department in informing management decisions. We agreed with all recommendations.

ANAO Audit Report 51: Interim phase of the audits of the financial statements of major general government sector agencies for the year ending 30 June 2012

The report was tabled on 26 June 2012. The Auditor-General Act 1997 establishes the mandate for the Auditor-General to undertake financial statement audits of all Commonwealth entities, including government agencies, statutory authorities and government business enterprises. The interim phase encompasses a review of governance arrangements related to agencies' financial reporting responsibilities and examination of relevant internal controls, including information technology system controls. No significant or moderate issues have been identified.

Interim Inspector-General of Biosecurity

In 2008, the Australian Government agreed in principle to establish a statutory office of the Inspector-General of Biosecurity. This role, to subsume that of the Interim Inspector-General of Horse Importation, would be established under new biosecurity legislation, which is currently being developed. On 1 July 2009, pending the enabling legislation, the government appointed Dr Kevin Dunn as the Interim Inspector-General of Biosecurity. The scope of the IIGB role covers the systems and risk management measures that are the responsibility of the department's biosecurity divisions. The IIGB has a broad scope to audit and review the performance of biosecurity programs.

The IIGB reports to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and makes key findings and recommendations publicly available. The department provides administrative support to the IIGB through the Government Division.

The IIGB conducts a multi-year assurance work program. In 2011–12, the IIGB work program included the examination of:

  • factors that led to the release into Australia of a consignment of soil (declared as fertiliser) and interception at the border of another consignment of soil (declared as fertiliser)
  • biosecurity controls associated with the export of live abalone to China and Hong Kong
  • the importation of undeclared meat product from the Republic of Korea
  • the effectiveness of current DAFF controls to manage identified biosecurity risks for imported finfish, animal breeding material and uncooked pig meat
  • the department's approval data for offshore equine pre-export quarantine facilities.

The IIGB has made several recommendations to strengthen the biosecurity risk management system for Australia. The IIGB's reports are available on the DAFF website.

Complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman

The department advises clients who are dissatisfied with its handling of a complaint that they are entitled to contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

In 2011–12, the number of complaints made to the ombudsman's office increased, but the number of complaints investigated continued to decline (see Table 26). The ombudsman received 78 approaches relating to DAFF and decided to investigate 17 of these. The ombudsman's office closed 72 inquiries relating to the department.

Table 26 Complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman
Complaints 2011–12 2010–11 2009–10
Approaches received 78 58 64
Approaches investigated 17 18 26
Findings of defective administration 26 a
Formal reports to the minister under the Ombudsman Act 1976 1 b 2

a 20 of the findings of administrative deficiency relate to claims carried over from 2008–09. b 'DAFF: Compliance and Investigations Activities of the Biosecurity Group: Report Two' (see below).

Most of the 17 complaints investigated in 2011–12 related to the department's biosecurity activities, including complaints about a quarantine station and quarantine approved premises, import and quarantine inspection processes and invoice payments. Most of the complaints investigated in 2010–11 were also about biosecurity activities, including complaints relating to import and quarantine inspection processes, invoices and delays in the provision of advice and in responding to complaints.

On 17 April 2012, the acting ombudsman published her office's final Own Motion Investigation (OMI) report on the department's biosecurity investigations. The report covers five reviews, conducted over three years, at all regional offices. These investigations flowed from a recommendation by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, following its inquiry into the outbreak of citrus canker in 2004.

The acting ombudsman found that:

  • DAFF adhered to its own investigations policies and procedures
  • the department met the required qualification standards
  • investigations were conducted in a timely manner
  • decisions to conduct interviews were made in accordance with internal guidelines
  • applications for, and execution of, warrants complied with legislation.

The report made six recommendations, all of which have been or are being implemented. These related to instigating a consistent approach to managing complex investigations, that is, the need to use investigation tools commensurate with the complexity of an investigation; a need to improve some record keeping; and to provide due process to recipients of correspondence.

The department welcomes the feedback and is committed to improving its business processes and investigation standards. It has developed and implemented an annual audit schedule of investigation activities based on the ombudsman's findings.

The OMI report and the five regional office reviews are available on our website.

Complaints to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner

Our clients and employees also have the right to complain to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. In 2011–12, two matters were raised with the Privacy Commissioner. Both matters were resolved to the Privacy Commissioner's satisfaction.

No complaints were made in 2009–10 or 2010–11.

Freedom of information

The department makes records available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), either in response to requests for access to information under the FOI Act or on its websites in accordance with the government's Information Publication Scheme (IPS).

During 2011–12, 74 new requests were made for information. This is an increase on the 57 requests received in 2010–11 and a significant increase on the 22 requests received in 2009–10. Twelve requests were carried over from 2010–11. Table 27 provides details about the freedom of information requests.

Table 27 Freedom of information requests
Freedom of information requests handled 2011–12 2010–11 2009–10
Received during the year 74 57 21 a
Granted in full 3 12 4
Granted in part 25 11 9
Denied 8 4 0
Transferred to another agency
Withdrawn 40 12 10
Remained undecided at 30 June 9 14 7
Identified nil documents 7 4 3
Carried over from previous year 12 5 12
Subject to internal review b 3 3 3
Subject to OAIC review c 4 N/A
Considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal 0 1

a This figure excludes 12 requests where other agencies consulted DAFF regarding an FOI request. These consultations have been included in previous years' calculations. State and foreign governments also consulted DAFF in relation to five requests, in accordance with their legislation. b FOI requests that have been subject to one or more internal reviews of the primary decision made on charges and/or on access. c As of 1 November 2010, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) can review primary decisions.

Over one-third of the requests received in 2011–12 related to live animal exports and animal welfare issues, resulting from heightened interest in these matters following the airing of the ABC's Four Corners program in May 2011.

All requests received during the year were processed within the statutory timeframe, or within revised timeframes agreed with applicants.

Agencies subject to the FOI Act are required to publish information to the public as part of the IPS. This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. Each agency must display on its website a plan showing what information it publishes in accordance with the IPS requirements.

The department has met all of its statutory obligations relating to the IPS, which came into effect on 1 May 2012. This included publishing a range of corporate and operational information on our website and reporting on information accessed through FOI applications in a disclosure log.

Deputy Secretary Mark Tucker has assumed the role of the department's Information Champion, to promote the FOI reforms and help foster a culture of open access and appropriate proactive release of DAFF's information holdings.

The reforms and increased number of FOI requests have necessitated an increase in resources devoted to FOI matters. For example, the number of dedicated FOI policy officers has increased from 1.5 in 2009–10 to, at times, more than six in 2011–12. Further resources have been drawn from business areas, ICT and web production teams to help search and review documents and publish material on the internet.

As in previous years, we contributed to a detailed annual report, published by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), on the operation of the FOI Act. We also contributed to the OAIC's Information Publication Scheme and Public Sector Information Survey of Australian Government Agencies.

Tribunal and court decisions

In 2010–11, a departmental employee appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), seeking a review of a decision to restrict access to some documents the applicant had sought under the FOI Act. In November 2011, the AAT upheld the department's decision in relation to 11 documents. It directed DAFF to undertake extra work in relation to five other documents, which were subsequently released to the employee. The matter has been finalised.

Claims for compensation for detriment caused by defective administration

During 2011–12, the department received 17 claims under the Scheme for Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration (CDDA). In addition, 11 unresolved claims were carried over from 2010–11, including one carried over because the claimant rejected the compensation offered by DAFF in 2009–10 and provided further information in June 2012. Six of the 28 claims have been carried over into 2012–13.

The majority of the claims received in 2011–12 related to the closure of the Exceptional Circumstances Exit Grant program on 10 August 2011. The department received claims for compensation from 12 people. In January 2012, the decision maker concluded that the department had not been defective in its administration of the closure of the program and that the claimants did not qualify for compensation. The decision maker's report was published on the department's website and provided to the Commonwealth Ombudsman. No appeals were received from the CDDA claimants. The department has actively assisted individuals in making an application under the Act of Grace scheme.

All claims made under the CDDA are assessed in accordance with the Department of Finance and Deregulation's (DoFD) 'Finance Circular 2009/09: Discretionary compensation and waiver of debt mechanisms'. During 2011–12, DAFF decided on 22 claims, offering compensation to one claimant (which was accepted) and declining 20 claims. One claim was considered withdrawn by the applicant. Preliminary assessments of two claims were provided to claimants for comment in June 2012.

If claimants are not satisfied with the outcome of their claims, the department advises them to contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Act of grace payments

During 2011–12, DoFD asked the department to provide submissions on 35 requests for act of grace payments. Of the requests received, 33 were for payment in lieu of a grant under a DAFF program. Of these, 27 related to the closure of the Exceptional Circumstances Exit Grant program. We provided 23 submissions to DoFD on these requests and are preparing submissions on the remaining 12. The department also provided a submission on a request received in 2010–11.

During 2011–12, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation or her delegate decided on 10 requests, offering payment to nine claimants and declining one request.

Details of any payments made are included in the financial statements section of this annual report (see Part 6: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Note: 27).

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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