The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has been found to have significant issues with managing conflicts of interest related to gifts, benefits, and hospitality.

According to a recent audit by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), from July 2021 to September 2023, ACMA staff declared 138 instances of gifts, benefits, and hospitality. 

However, 19 of these did not meet ACMA's reporting standards, and 42 per cent were not declared within the required 14-day timeframe. 

The total known value of these gifts is $14,400, although ACMA’s policies do not require reporting the monetary value in line with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) guidelines.

The audit revealed that of the 19 misreported items, eight were received but not declared. Notable instances included three gifts to eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, such as hospitality at the Women’s AFL season launch in 2022. 

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin received two gifts, including hospitality at Telstra CEO Andrew Penn’s farewell in 2022. 

Additionally, a general manager at the Office of the eSafety Commissioner received three gifts. 

The remaining 11 misreported items were declined offers of hospitality that went unreported.

The ANAO noted that although ACMA has guidance and training in place, engagement with these measures was insufficient. 

The auditors say there is a need for ACMA to improve compliance and record-keeping to prevent the appearance of undue influence. 

They highlighted that ACMA’s policies stipulate that the ACMA Chair reviews interests disclosed by senior executives, but for 2022 and 2023, there was no documentary evidence of this review.

“A review of ACMA’s gifts, benefits and hospitality register identified instances of gifts accepted from external parties who were also awarded contracts; or who were existing suppliers to ACMA,” the auditors wrote. 

“Staff had disclosed receiving gifts, benefits and hospitality from four suppliers, of which one supplier is also an industry body.”

The ANAO made three recommendations to enhance ACMA’s guidance and compliance procedures, all of which were accepted by the authority. 

In response, ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin stated her commitment to improving risk management and maintaining the highest standards of integrity.

“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,” she said. 

“Actions arising from the ANAO’s audit will 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.”