Provides an overview of the annual audit work program including the purpose and key features, and how the program is developed and delivered. Information about the development of the annual audit work program includes details of environmental scanning, topic development, coverage review, consultation, final review and audit selection.

Auditor-General and ANAO

The Auditor-General is an independent officer of the Parliament whose purpose is to support accountability and transparency in the Australian Government sector through independent reporting to the Parliament, thereby driving improvements in public sector performance. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) assists the Auditor-General to deliver reports under the Auditor-General’s mandate and in accordance with the Auditor-General Act 1997 (the Act), the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Public Service Act 1999.

Under the Act, the Auditor-General’s functions or powers include:

  • annual financial statements audits of Commonwealth entities, Commonwealth companies and their subsidiaries, including the audit of the Australian Government’s consolidated financial statements;
  • conducting performance audits and assurance reviews (including the Defence Major Projects Report) of Commonwealth entities and Commonwealth companies and their subsidiaries;
  • auditing annual performance statements of Commonwealth entities on request, in accordance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013; and
  • at any time, causing a report to be tabled in either house of the Parliament on any matter.

The Auditor-General must have regard to the audit priorities of the Parliament, as determined by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, when exercising the functions or powers under the Act.

The ANAO also supports the Parliament through briefings, appearances at parliamentary committees and other activities.

Annual audit work program

The Auditor-General publishes an annual audit work program in July each year. The program is designed to reflect the ANAO’s audit strategy and inform the Parliament, government entities and the public of the planned audit coverage for the Australian Government sector. As an independent officer, the Auditor-General has discretion in performing functions or exercising powers under the Auditor-General Act 1997, and may at any time explore additional areas of audit interest beyond those published in the annual audit work program.

The annual audit work program is also designed to anticipate and respond to current and emerging risks and challenges impacting on public administration, and complements the ANAO’s primary strategic planning document, the corporate plan.

Key features of the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21

In addition to the annual program of mandated financial statements audits, the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21 includes: 69 potential performance audits and assurance review topics; details about in-progress performance audits and assurance work; and information on a pilot program of audits of annual performance statements. Key focus areas of the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21 include:

  • key accountabilities as outlined in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (the PGPA Act), including the proper use and management of public resources (efficiency, effectiveness, economy and ethics);
  • planning and delivery in major areas of public investment, such as in Defence capability, large-scale infrastructure such as the national broadband network, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and programs targeting Indigenous Australians;
  • the measurement of performance and impact against agreed program objectives;
  • emergency response planning, performance and associated risks;
  • grants assessment, decision-making and management;
  • management of program and entity risks, including in relation to probity, integrity and fraud; and
  • a COVID-19 audit strategy delivered in three phases, recognising that the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic has significantly impacted the risk environment faced by the Australian public sector and has challenged policy design, service delivery, IT systems and information management, and resource allocation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and the government response continues to evolve, the ANAO has not included additional COVID-19-specific audit topics in this work plan. These will be developed during 2020–21 and published on the ANAO website. These audit topics will be informed by emerging risks, new announcements made by government and early findings from the four COVID-19 audits the ANAO initiated in 2019–20 (for tabling in 2020–21). These four audits are:

  • Services Australia COVID-19 measures and enterprise risk management;
  • The Australian Taxation Office’s management of risks related to the rapid implementation of COVID-19 economic response measures;
  • Management of the Australian Public Service’s workforce response to COVID-19; and
  • Procurements to increase the national medical stockpile.

The ANAO also undertakes a series of audits on the implementation of agreed parliamentary committee and ANAO recommendations to provide assurance that actions to improve public administration are implemented as intended and agreed, and within reasonable timeframes. The ANAO is currently undertaking an audit of the implementation of ANAO and parliamentary committee recommendations in Defence, has included in the 2020–21 work program a further potential cross-entity audit of implementation of recommendations, and has so far tabled two audits in the series:

The ANAO will also examine implementation of previous audit findings and recommendations in selected follow-up audits, including potential performance audits on:

  • Addressing superannuation guarantee noncompliance;
  • Overseas crisis management and response; and
  • Monitoring the impact of Australian Government school funding.

Development of the annual audit work program

The ANAO develops the annual audit work program through the process outlined in Figure 1, and is guided by the following objectives:

  • respond to the interests and priorities of the Parliament of Australia;
  • provide a balanced program of activity that is informed by risk, and promotes accountability, transparency and improvements to public administration;
  • follow up on past recommendations and identify trends for improvement, or declines in performance across government; and
  • apply all of the Auditor-General’s mandate.

Figure 1: Annual audit work program development process

1. Environmental scan

The ANAO continually monitors developments in the Australian Government sector to develop a comprehensive understanding of areas of parliamentary interest, changes and trends in the sector, and risks to the achievement of government and legislative objectives, including through analysis of budget decisions. The ANAO maintains an awareness of the Parliament’s interests throughout the year through daily monitoring of chamber debates and motions and parliamentary committee inquiries, and interactions with members of parliament through briefings on request.

The review of sector trends and risks involves examination of public and entity-held information gathered through the ANAO’s interaction with entities and stakeholders during performance and financial statement audit work, and through ANAO staff attending entities’ audit committee meetings. As noted in the ANAO Corporate Plan 2020–21, key features impacting the public sector operating environment include adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, new models of government service delivery and the use of technology and data.

The ANAO’s environmental scan identified key considerations and risks across government activities that have influenced the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21, as outlined below.

Governance

  • oversight of the delivery of major projects and transition initiatives;
  • governance of shared responsibilities, both with other government entities and with non-government stakeholders;
  • appropriateness of governance arrangements for decentralised operations; and
  • governance of corporate Commonwealth entities and government business enterprises.

Service delivery

  • evidencing achievement of objectives through effective implementation of the Commonwealth performance framework;
  • rapid scale up of service delivery to implement government policy in response to new pandemic policy responses;
  • demonstrating efficiency; and
  • maintaining accountability for services delivered through third parties.

Grants administration

  • compliance with the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines;
  • effectiveness and efficiency of grant program management through grants hubs and other third parties; and
  • assurance arrangements to demonstrate that grant program objectives are being met with value for public funding.

Procurement

  • achieving and demonstrating value for money, particularly by maintaining competition throughout procurement processes;
  • management of probity in procurement; and
  • compliance with the Commonwealth Procurement Rules.

Policy development

  • use of evidence, including data and performance measures, in the policy development process, including when policy is developed in an emergency response context.

Regulation

  • design of risk-based compliance strategies and the adaptation of this to a pandemic environment;
  • delivery of proportionate responses to non-compliance; and
  • monitoring and reporting on compliance activities.

Asset management and sustainment

  • maintenance and sustainability planning tailored to the nature and use of the assets; and
  • use of judgement and expertise to value specialist or unique assets.

Financial management

  • application of judgement and appropriateness of assumptions for the calculation of liabilities; and
  • complex valuation methods and models used to derive the value of Commonwealth investments in portfolio entities.

Cross-cutting theme

A key theme cutting across portfolios and areas of government activity continues to be developing a culture that supports effective compliance with mandatory rules and good practice, essential for good governance and entity success. A major example is the protection and use of data through effective information and communications technology (ICT) and cyber resilience arrangements. Maintaining fit-for-purpose ICT infrastructure is critical to supporting the integrity of financial management systems and effective service delivery. Implementation of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy across entity systems is critical to protect Australians’ privacy and Australia’s social, economic and national security interests from targeted cyber intrusions and emerging cyber threats. During 2020–21, a range of audits will also incorporate the examination of COVID-19 related impacts from a risk management perspective.

2. Topic development

Risks and audit priority areas identified during the environmental scan are developed into potential topics. The development of these topics is guided by six key considerations:

  • Risk: both financial and non-financial risk at the whole-of-system, portfolio and individual program levels.
  • Impact: possible benefits that will flow from audit coverage, including improved transparency, administrative effectiveness, greater efficiency, improved performance, and key learnings and insights for all government entities.
  • Importance: the criticality of the effective and efficient delivery of the proposed topic to key stakeholders, including the Parliament and the public.
  • Materiality: the significance of the program in terms of the value, dependence and citizen reach, and the extent to which the program contributes to the broader objectives of government, or to changing or influencing decisions.
  • Auditability: the extent to which the area of proposed audit coverage is able to be audited, with consideration for factors such as the Auditor-General’s mandate, the availability of an appropriate audit methodology and product, quality and accessibility of material for analysis, and the clarity of existing frameworks and requirements to audit against.
  • Previous coverage: the extent to which the area has been subject to previous audit coverage or other recent reviews and inquiries, including by the Parliament.

3. Consultation

The annual audit work program is part of the ANAO’s strategic planning framework and is guided by commitments the ANAO has made to the Parliament in its portfolio budget statements and corporate plan. A draft annual audit work program is provided to the Parliament for consultation through the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, which may seek input from other parliamentary committees to develop a consolidated response, consistent with the Auditor-General’s requirement to have regard to the audit priorities of the Parliament. The ANAO also invites feedback from accountable authorities of Australian Government entities, members of the public, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Taxation, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. In the development of the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21:

  • 48 audit priorities were identified by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, plus nine priorities from other parliamentary committees, and 20 topics received from parliamentarians directly.
  • 42 entities were consulted, with 36 responses received.

4. Coverage review

The ANAO considers feedback from the Parliament, entities and the general public on the potential topics, and reviews the topics to assess the extent to which the annual audit work program would appropriately cover Australian Government portfolios and entities, the range of activities undertaken within portfolio entities, the maturity of program/activity delivery, and how the potential audits align with the objects of the PGPA Act, which include the proper use and management of public resources. Some lower-priority potential topics are removed to ensure coverage across the program is proportionate to risk and reflects an appropriate entity audit load.

Portfolio coverage

Audit coverage across portfolios is tailored to the level of Australian Government budget commitments, the breadth of responsibilities within entities, and risks to the achievement of government and parliamentary objectives.

Activity coverage

To ensure that the annual audit work program has an appropriate spread of coverage across portfolio responsibilities, the topic list is reviewed against a range of key public administration activities. These activities include governance, service delivery, procurement, regulatory activities, grants administration, asset management and sustainment, and policy development.

Stage-of-delivery coverage

Australian Government programs and activities present a variety of risk profiles related to their stage of maturity. The ANAO reviews the annual audit work program to provide assurance that potential topics cover an appropriate range of programs and activities across different stages of implementation maturity. Audits of programs in the design, standing-up and early delivery phases enable insights that assist the implementation, mature delivery and completion stages. Audits of programs at the mature delivery stage aim to provide findings directed towards assurance, evidence collection, lessons learned for future programs, and delivery of objectives.

Audit objective coverage

Section 15(1) of the PGPA Act provides that the accountable authority of a Commonwealth entity must govern the entity in a way that promotes the proper use and management of public resources. The PGPA Act defines ‘proper’ as efficient, effective, economical and ethical use. Entities are also obliged to comply with relevant legislative requirements, and for non-corporate Commonwealth entities, operate in a way that is not inconsistent with the policies of the Australian Government.

In consideration of the obligations set out under the PGPA Act, each audit will include an assessment of the extent to which entities comply with relevant legislative requirements, established administrative frameworks and government policies. Further, each audit will ultimately make a conclusion on whether the entity was efficient, effective, economical and/or ethical in its implementation of the program or activity under examination.

5. Program finalisation and audit selection

Following the coverage review, the annual audit work program is finalised and published on the ANAO’s website. Figures 2 to 5 set out the coverage of audit topics included in the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21.

All Australian Government portfolios have been identified for at least one single- or multi-entity performance audit in the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21. In addition, any Australian Government entity may be included in one of the eight cross-entity audits included in the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21. Figure 2 provides an overview of the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21 by portfolio.

Figure 2: Portfolio coverage, 2020–21

 

The planned activity coverage of the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21 covers governance, service delivery, procurement, regulatory activities, grants administration, asset management and sustainment, and policy development. Figure 3 outlines the spread of the audit coverage across activities for the 2020–21 program.

Figure 3: Activity coverage, 2020–21

 

The annual audit work program has been designed to capture the varying public administration challenges related to programs and activities during the stages of design, standing up, early delivery, mature delivery and after completion. Figure 4 illustrates the spread of audit coverage in 2020–21 across programs and activities at different stages of delivery.

Figure 4: Stage-of-implementation coverage, 2020–21

 

Figure 5 provides an overview of the proposed audit objectives covered by the Annual Audit Work Program 2020–21.

Figure 5: Audit objective coverage, 2020–21

 

Audit selection

Throughout the year, the Auditor-General determines which audits will commence, based on a risk assessment, identified parliamentary priorities, and achieving sufficient breadth and depth across the government sector. The Auditor-General also considers any recent developments in the public sector and areas of public concern, opportunities to demonstrate good practice in public administration and accountability, requests for audit, and resourcing. Approaches by parliamentarians, parliamentary committees and others with suggestions for audits are also considered by the Auditor-General for potential audit activity throughout the year.

Prior to commencing an audit, the allocated audit team will develop an audit work plan that includes the proposed audit scope, timeframe and budget, and review strategic and operational risks specific to the audit.

Delivering against the annual audit work program

Once a performance audit or assurance review is completed and approved by the Auditor-General, the relevant report is tabled in the Parliament. The tabled report is then published on the ANAO website. Additionally, the ANAO shares key learnings from performance audit reports in quarterly Audit Insights publications.