A special appropriation (also known as a standing appropriation) is included in a specific Act (other than an Annual Appropriation Act) when it authorises a payment where an entitlement exists, or a payment of a specified amount separately identified in an annual Appropriation Act. Some special appropriations state a maximum amount that is appropriated for the particular purpose. They can be referred to as being ‘limited by amount’. Others do not state a maximum amount but the payment amount has to be calculated according to legislative criteria that determine the amount to be paid.
A number of factors are taken into account in determining whether an annual or special appropriation should be used in particular circumstances. For example, a cash limited appropriation might not be appropriate for an entitlement-based program which is demand driven. The below list is not exhaustive, but provides examples of when a special appropriation may be more suitable than an annual appropriation:
- it is desirable to create a legal entitlement which is to be provided to everyone who satisfies specific criteria (for example, the age pension)
- it is necessary to give effect to inter-governmental or industry arrangements by providing a specific amount to certain persons or bodies under stated conditions (for example, the Schools Assistance Act 2008 and the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995)
- it is important to demonstrate the independence of an entity from parliament and the executive by providing for automatic payment of the remuneration of its officeholders (for example, the salaries of judges, statutory officeholders, and the Auditor-General)
- it is considered necessary to demonstrate Australia’s ability to meet its financial obligations independently of parliamentary approval of funds (for example, the repayment of loans); or
- it is necessary to transfer the balance of a special account being ceased to a receiving body (can be a corporate Commonwealth entity, Commonwealth company or entity outside the Commonwealth); or
- implementing transitional arrangements, in particular, as part of the restructuring of bodies within and/or outside of the Commonwealth.
Where a special appropriation is proposed for other circumstances, this should be discussed with the relevant Agency Advice Unit as part of the policy development and costings process. Please note that the Finance Minister must be consulted on all Bills containing special appropriations, and measures contained in a Bill must have policy approval at the appropriate level. For further information on the policy approval process as well as the legislation process, please see the following:
- Cabinet Handbook
- Legislation Handbook
- Office of Parliamentary Counsel’s Drafting Directions, in particular, Drafting Direction No. 3.12: Provisions that make the Commonwealth liable to make payment.
The Administrative Arrangements Orders sets out the legislation administered by a minister of state. It is the responsibility of a department to ensure that all special appropriations contained within legislation that is the responsibility of its minister are managed by the department, or are allocated by the minister to other Commonwealth entities within the minister’s portfolio. Nonetheless, entities are able to spend money from special appropriations which are the responsibility of a minister in another portfolio where the appropriate legal measures have been put in place.
Chart of Special Appropriations
The Chart of Special Appropriations lists all special appropriations (not including special accounts or appropriations that increase the balance of special accounts), that are managed by non-corporate Commonwealth entities. The Chart is intended to assist officials in the effective management and reporting of special appropriations. Each special appropriation listed on the Chart is hyperlinked to its legal instrument on the Commonwealth’s legislation database (the Federal Register of Legislation) . The Chart is updated whenever a new special appropriation is created, an old one is abolished, or when the administration of a special appropriation changes. If you are aware of a change that has been made to a special appropriation that is not reflected in the latest version of the Chart, please advise the Special Appropriations Team.
The Finance publication Budget Paper No. 4 – Agency Resourcing, produced as part of the annual Budget process, contains a table, the Table of Estimated Expenditure from Special Appropriations, which shows estimates of expenses for each special appropriation Act for each Commonwealth entity. It is in two parts: the first is a summary table showing the total special appropriations by portfolio; the second shows the estimate for each special appropriation Act for each entity for the Budget year and an ‘Estimated Actual’ figure for the previous year. All amounts in the table are shown under the entities whose ministers are responsible for the special appropriation legislation concerned. The Agency Resourcing Table presents total special appropriations for each entity by outcome and for each portfolio.