Fact Sheet H5

Fact Sheet H5: Independent Officers of Parliament

 

Summary: Parliament allocates some work to be done to people independent of Parliament, rather than by elected members. This work is done by specific public servants who have special status as Independent Officers of the Parliament.
 

Victoria’s Independent Officers of Parliament are the:
• Auditor-General
• Ombudsman
• Electoral Commissioner
• IBAC Commissioner
• Inspector, Victorian Inspectorate

 

Defining Independent Officers of Parliament Inspector, Victorian Inspectorate
Independent Officers' Role Relationship with Parliament
Auditor-General  
Victorian Ombudsman  
Electoral Commissioner

IBAC Commissioner

 

 

Defining Independent Officers of Parliament

Independent officers of Parliament are public officials who have a special relationship to the Parliament. Most public servants work for and report to the Government, which is made up of the Premier and other ministers. Independent officers report to the whole of Parliament, rather than to the Government of the day.

There is no standard definition of an independent officer of Parliament. The five officers in Victoria share that title, but the laws establishing them don’t provide a common definition. However, many of them have several things in common, such as doing things to keep the Government accountable, and reporting directly to Parliament.

 

Independent Officers' Role

Each of Victoria’s independent officers has a different area of responsibility. All but the Electoral Commissioner investigate matters of government activity or public interest as their main activity, while the Electoral Commissioner is an impartial overseer and organiser of Victoria’s elections.

All five officers report on their findings and activities by tabling reports in Parliament.

 

Auditor-General

The Auditor-General conducts audits of public sector agencies to provide independent assurance to Parliament of their accountability and performance. The Auditor-General audits around 550 agencies including Parliament, government departments, public bodies, superannuation funds, health services, universities and other educational institutions, municipal councils, and water authorities.

The Auditor-General conducts two different types of audits, financial and performance. Financial audits check that an organisation’s financial statements represent its situation accurately. Performance audits check that an organisation is achieving its goals, doing them well and doing them within the law.

 

Ombudsman

The Ombudsman conducts investigations into public sector agencies’ actions. While the Auditor-General looks at whether these agencies are achieving their goals, the Ombudsman looks at their conduct and performance.

Some investigations start from the Ombudsman’s own ideas and some are in response to complaints. The Ombudsman can also investigate matters referred to them by one of the Houses of Parliament or by a parliamentary committee.

 

Electoral Commisioner

The Electoral Commissioner is the head of the Victorian Electoral Commission, the organisation responsible for conducting state and local elections in Victoria. The Electoral Commissioner doesn’t investigate things for the Parliament like the other independent officers do. Instead the Electoral Commissioner is important to the Parliament because they ensure that elections are conducted fairly.

The Electoral Commissioner is also one of three members of the Electoral Boundaries Commission, which reviews the size and boundaries of electorates and proposes changes.

 

IBAC Commissioner

The IBAC Commissioner is the head of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC). IBAC investigates corruption in the public sector and police misconduct, including members of parliament, state and local governments and the judiciary. IBAC may start investigations on its own initiative, because of a complaint from members of the public or because of a notification from the head of a public sector agency. IBAC also investigates complaints against public officers made under the Protected Disclosures Act 2012. These are commonly known as ‘whistleblower complaints’.

The IBAC Commissioner also helps to prevent corruption by educating public sector agencies about corruption, good work practices and how people can be protected when making a complaint.

Inspector, Victorian Inspectorate

The Inspector is the head of the Victorian Inspectorate, which oversees the use of coercive powers and certain types of record-keeping by the public sector. The Inspector can also investigate complaints made against IBAC, the Chief Examiner, the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General.

‘Coercive powers’ means having the power to make people appear as witnesses, or to make organisations provide documents as evidence.

Several public sector agencies are allowed to use coercive powers, including the Auditor-General, IBAC Commissioner and Ombudsman. The Inspector makes sure these agencies and staff are using their powers appropriately and in accordance with the law.

 

Relationship with Parliament

Appointing independent officers

While independent officers are appointed by the government, they must be sworn in by the Speaker.

Reporting to Parliament

Independent officers report to Parliament by tabling their reports. Most of these reports are on the results of an investigation, and occasionally an update on an investigation. The Electoral Commissioner also tables a report after conducting an election or byelection.

Most reports tabled by independent officers are parliamentary papers. This gives them parliamentary privilege, which protects the authors from being sued over the contents. (See Fact Sheet F1: Documents tabled in the Assembly for more information on tabling and parliamentary papers.)


Relationships with Parliamentary Committees

Most independent officers have special relationships with parliamentary committees.

The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) is involved with the Auditor-General in several ways. PAEC recommends new candidates to appoint to the position of Auditor-General. The Auditor-General also consults with PAEC on audit topics.

The Accountability and Oversight Committee oversees the Ombudsman and reviews their performance.

The IBAC Committee can veto new candidates for the IBAC Commissioner and the Inspector, Victorian Inspectorate.

 

 

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