The Auditor-General responded on 11 December 2019 to correspondence from Senator Kimberley Kitching dated 14 November 2019, requesting that the Auditor-General consider undertaking proposed audits of parliamentary departments listed in the work program

Auditor-General's response

11 December 2019

Senator Kimberley Kitching
Senator for Victoria
Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate
Shadow Minister for Government Accountability

By Email:

Dear Senator Kitching

I am writing in response to your letter of 14 November 2019 requesting my consideration of your concerns regarding the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) in relation to two potential audit topics of DPS listed in the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) 2019–20 Annual Audit Work Program.

As you referred in your letter, the ANAO has the following two potential audit topics in the parliamentary departments portfolio: Business continuity management at Parliament House, which if commenced would assess the effectiveness of the DPS in planning to maintain and support the operation of Parliament in the face of disruptions; and Security works at Parliament House, which if commenced would assess the effectiveness of the DPS in planning and delivering security works at Parliament House.

As noted in my response to your questions in relation to the potential audits of DPS during the ANAO’s appearance at the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee’s 2019–20 Supplementary Budget Estimates hearing on 21 October 2019, I do not expect to commence both of these audits in the current financial year, but will probably choose one to commence. In the event that the ANAO commences an audit of DPS during this financial year, I will consider the specific matters you have raised in the context of planning the objectives and scope of the audit.

Yours sincerely

Grant Hehir

Correspondence from Senator Kimberley Kitching

Transcript of letter from Senator Kimberley Kitching

Mr Grant Hehir
Australian National Audit Office


Dear Mr Hehir

Annual audit work program 2019-20

I refer to the ANAO's annual audit work program 2019-20, in particular the following proposed audits in the parliamentary departments portfolio:

  • Business continuity management at Parliament House; and
  • Security works at Parliament House.

Based on my review and examination of the Department of Parliamentary Services over the past three years at Senate Estimates, as well as information uncovered through the questions on notice process, it has become increasingly apparent that the Department has some systematic challenges.

You will no doubt be aware of the significant delays in the completion of the security and building upgrade works at Parliament House which have been the subject of numerous media articles. It is my strong view that the Department is absent senior personnel who are qualified and possess adequate expertise to manage a capital works project of this size. The most disturbing discovery in Senate Estimates was the gross inadequacy of the financial management of this project by the Department, in particular in relation to a subcontractor who had to be replaced due to its own financial issues, causing cost blowouts well above what would be reasonably acceptable on a project of this scale and nature.

Extensive information about the Department's wilful blindness in entering into a contract with the head contractor is now apparent. Given the total value of the project, it is unconscionable that the Department failed to ensure the Commonwealth was protected and would be duly compensated from delays caused by the head contractor. The contract entered into by the parties did not include any of the standard liquidated damages provisions which you would find in standard commercial and residential building contracts.

More recently, the Department has installed turnstiles at the Senate and House of Representatives entrances. These works appear to have been prematurely undertaken and further consideration may need to be given to matters of security and parliamentary privilege. I refer you to evidence given by the President in Senate Estimates on 21 October 2019:

" ... The second matter I would like to draw your attention to is the installation of the turnstiles on the stairs from Parliament Drive, which will progress in the near future. The Speaker and I did not wish for this work element to proceed until the entrances were completed. Additionally, they will operate in free spin mode for the time being. The timing and implementing of access control requiring the use of passes at the turnstiles is yet to be determined."

Another serious concern for APH network users is business continuity. You are no doubt aware that in February 2019 a cyber security incident occurred whereby the APH network was attacked by a foreign actor, causing a breach that resulted in a system outage for several hours. It was unsatisfactory that the Department's chosen method of communication in alerting users of the outage that had taken down the entire APH network was to send an email.

The Department of Parliamentary Services plans to expend significant funds in the near future with respect to technology, network and connectivity projects and there have been variable timelines in relation to these projects.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you in due course. I would, of course, be pleased to meet with you to discuss this correspondence further should you wish and I welcome your office to contact Maree Goodrick in my office to arrange a mutually suitable time.

Yours sincerely

Kimberley Kitching
14 November 2019