Budget night events breached laws and internal guidelines, audit office finds

Budget night events breached laws and internal guidelines, audit office finds
  • PublishedJune 25, 2024

Tens of thousands of dollars spent by Treasury on food, alcohol and venues for its budget night functions breached probity laws and internal policies.

An investigation by the audit office found Treasury spent just over $34,000 on four non-compliant budget events.

Two were for departmental staff on budget night in March and October 2022.

Totalling $9,630.85, they are part of a longstanding budget night tradition colloquially dubbed the “budget binge” by staff, held to celebrate after a busy period of budget preparation.

The audit office found they breached the department’s own policies on the provision of hospitality, which require that hospitality be reserved for when it assists “the achievement of policy objectives” or when there are external attendees.

A man in a suit is seen from behind walking towards the Treasury building.
The audit office found the department’s monitoring of hospitality had failed to pick up several breaches.(ABC News: John Gunn)

The other two events were functions hosted at Parliament House on budget night organised by the Treasurer’s office to thank officials. They broke the law because they were not authorised properly.

One was held in March 2022 under then-treasurer Josh Frydenberg, costing $14,990. The funds were authorised verbally by one of Mr Frydenberg’s staffers, who did not have the appropriate authority.

The other was held in May 2023 under Treasurer Jim Chalmers, costing $9,502. It was approved by a Treasury official, but again verbally rather than in writing.

In the case of the parliament events, the problem identified by the audit office was how the funds were approved, not whether the events were appropriate.

Treasury failed to pick up on any of these issues, which the audit office said was because its monitoring was too narrow and focused mainly on corporate credit cards and serious fraud.

Secretary’s gala attendance not declared

The audit also uncovered four instances where Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy’s acceptance of corporate hospitality was not declared publicly in line with official guidance for agency heads.

The events were all in 2022 or 2023 and included a Platinum Gala Dinner hosted by the Australian Financial Review, two post-budget lunches hosted by Westpac and Qantas and a dinner hosted by the Business Council of Australia.

Treasury boss Steven Kennedy at Estimates
The audit office found four corporate events attended by secretary Steven Kennedy were not publicly declared.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

The audit office found “there were no records to demonstrate that officials had assessed or considered the potential for a perceived conflict of interest risk prior to accepting the hospitality,” despite Treasury’s own internal guidelines suggesting “caution” be applied to “wining and dining” from industry lobby groups.

“[Treasury] needs to balance its public sector responsibilities in the assessment of whether the hospitality should be accepted,” the auditor’s report read.

The audit office recommended Treasury re-evaluate its approach, which Treasury agreed to do. But it then told the audit office it would not change its approach and would continue to rely on staff to self-declare.

Apart from this collection of “shortcomings”, the audit office found Treasury had “largely effective arrangements”. The department has been contacted for comment.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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