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Monday, July 22, 2024

ACMA Accepts Auditor Recommendations on Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has released a report measuring media regulator ACMA’s management and control of risks associated with giving and receiving gifts, benefits and hospitality against the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) Guidance on such matters.

The report, entitled “Compliance with Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality Requirements in the Australian Communications and Media Authority”, found that the regulator’s policy requirements were “partly effective”.

The ANAO report concluded, “ACMA’s policies are largely in place to manage gifts, benefits and hospitality. The implementation of its policies is partly effective, with deficiencies in enforcing the requirements for: making declarations of gifts, benefits and hospitality; complying with declaration timeframes; and the completion of mandatory training and conflicts of interest declarations.

“ACMA has established largely fit-for-purpose arrangements to manage the compliance requirements and risks associated with the management of gifts, benefits and hospitality. ACMA has implemented policies for gifts, benefits and hospitality that include an internal declaration process to support the public reporting requirements for all officials including the agency head. The policies also identify business functions where the acceptance or provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality may create increased risk of conflicts of interest, impacting on ACMA’s integrity and independence as the Australian Government regulator for communications and media services.

“ACMA’s policy does not include the requirement in the APSC Guidance to declare items based on their market value and items accepted by the agency head’s immediate families and dependants where it is related to the agency head’s official duties. ACMA’s suite of mandatory training covers obligations relating to gifts, benefits and hospitality. Risks associated with the acceptance or provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality, and the controls in place to manage them, have not been identified, assessed, and documented in ACMA’s Strategic Risk Register, fraud and corruption risk register, and divisional risk registers.”

ANAO analysis identified 19 instances of gifts, benefits and hospitality that were not declared in accordance with ACMA’s policy requirements. Of ACMA’s declarations of gifts, benefits and hospitality, 42 per cent did not meet ACMA’s declaration timeframe of 14 days. Mandatory training and conflicts of interest declarations were not completed as required in ACMA’s policies. For Senior Executive Service (SES) officers’ conflicts of interest declarations that were completed in 2022 and 2023, ACMA could not provide evidence that the ACMA Chair as the accountable authority had reviewed these as required by ACMA’s policy.

In its report, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) made the following recommendations:

  1. That the Australian Communications and Media Authority update its Strategic Risk Register and fraud and corruption risk assessment to include consideration of risks and controls in relation to gifts, benefits, and hospitality; and
    ensure that divisional risk assessments, including for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, are completed for all business divisions and reflect the risks associated with gifts, benefits and hospitality, particularly for those functions with heightened risk.
  2. That the Australian Communications and Media Authority review its policy framework for gifts, benefits and hospitality and implement amendments to align with the APSC Guidance for the requirements to declare items at current market value and the declaration of any service or item received by the family of the agency head, where there is a clear link with the agency head’s official duties.
  3. That the Australian Communications and Media Authority establish governance and reporting arrangements to monitor and enforce its policy requirements for compliance with gifts, benefits and hospitality that include the completion of: declarations of offers, acceptance and the provision of gifts, benefits and hospitality within the stipulated time according to ACMA’s policy framework and delegations; mandatory training; and
    conflicts of interest declarations and management of actual or potential conflicts.
Australian Commuunications & Media Authority Chair, Nerida O’Loughlin.

In responding to the report, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Chair, Nerida O’Loughlin, said: “The ACMA, including the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety), acknowledges the ANAO’s findings and agrees with, and has already taken steps to implement, the three recommendations identified in the Report.

“As a regulatory agency, the ACMA must maintain the highest standards of integrity and be transparent to its regulated entities and the Australian public. We therefore intend to implement all the additional opportunities for improvement identified in the Report to strengthen our policies, processes, and guidance in line with government best practice.

“I remain committed to strengthening our controls for managing the risks associated with the giving and receiving of gifts, benefits, and hospitality, including managing real and perceived conflicts of interest. Actions arising from the ANAO’s audit include improved processes to ensure compliance with updated internal policies, additional reviews and cross-checking to avoid omissions and errors, and better documentation of the assessment of conflicts of interest and actions to be taken where conflicts are identified.”

Visit https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/compliance-gifts-benefits-and-hospitality-requirements-the-acma

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