Each house of Parliament is responsible for scrutinising government finances. This scrutiny is conducted on an ongoing basis, with a special focus on the government’s annual budget, also known as the State Budget, which is typically released in May each year.
Every year, the government is required to present its budget to Parliament. The budget outlines in detail what funds each agency of government proposes to be granted in the upcoming financial year. The budget is accompanied by two appropriation bills that set out the government’s request to Parliament for funding to implement its budget. One bill is for spending on services and one bill is for spending on capital projects. If the appropriation bills are not passed, the bulk of the money that funds the activities of government cannot be provided.
The budget and the appropriation bills are subject to detailed examination by both Houses of Parliament, which conduct hearings with the responsible minister or their representative and senior agency staff on the contents of their respective budgets. The hearings provide an opportunity for members of each house to ask questions directly to ministers and, through them, to departmental officials on the matters of interest.
In addition to the annual scrutiny of the budget, the Parliament also examines government finances on an ongoing basis through a variety of business processes. These include members asking parliamentary questions or questioning ministers, agency heads, public servants and others via the proceedings of parliamentary committees.
Both Houses of Parliament have established standing committees with a general responsibility to examine financial matters: the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee and the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations. Other parliamentary committees may also examine state finances as part of their broader examination of government activities.
The Auditor General aids the Parliament in its scrutiny function. The Auditor General is an independent statutory officer responsible for conducting annual financial audits on agencies and examining the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of agency operations and programs. The Auditor General is responsible to Parliament and tables a variety of reports on government finances and agency performance, which are available to view under Tabled Papers.