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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11658


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (17:26): by leave—on behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit I am pleased to present the committee's Report 425: Annual report 2010-11. The JCPAA is one of the oldest parliamentary committees. The committee plays an important role within a parliamentary democracy with responsibility for providing oversight and scrutiny of public moneys. This report showcases the activities undertaken by the committee since the commencement of the 43rd parliament and the multipartisan approach that the committee has taken in its work. Two of the most significant reports tabled by the committee this year were reports on the powers and role of the Auditor-General—Report 421: Role of the auditor general in scrutinising government advertising and Report 419: Inquiry into the Auditor-General Act 1997.

The previous committee recognised the Auditor-General had been performing additional functions and considered it timely to review the adequacy of the Auditor-General's powers in the current public sector environment. As a result of this review the committee put forward 13 recommendations directed at enhancing the power of the Auditor-General. These powers included to follow the dollar or follow the money giving the Auditor-General greater authority to audit non-Commonwealth bodies receiving billions of dollars of Commonwealth funding. In line with the committee's recommendations, a bill amending the Auditor-General's powers was introduced to the parliament shortly after the report's tabling. Once passed into law—and I understand from another place that is potentially tomorrow—this will ensure that Commonwealth funding is better accounted for and that taxpayers are receiving full value for money. This shows the committee's ability to use the parliament to influence important changes to the nation's laws.

Throughout 2010-11 the committee continued its scrutiny of the financial affairs of Commonwealth authorities. This was achieved through the committee's regular activities which are, firstly, to conduct major policy inquiries such as its inquiry into the Auditor-General Act I have just discussed; secondly, to examine all of the Auditor-General's reports including annual reviews of the major projects report compiled by the Defence Materiel Organisation and the ANAO; and, thirdly, to conduct biannual hearings with the Commissioner of Taxation. This work enables the committee to publicly report on matters of interest to the parliament and the public while empowering the committee to recommend to agencies where improvements and changes need to be made. This committee sees the importance of actively following up on its and the ANAO's recommendations to ensure that the intended impact is being realised. To this end the committee will often request evidence from agencies to show that they are making the recommended adjustments. With the completion of the inquiry into the Auditor-General Act the committee commenced a new major policy inquiry into national funding agreements. Under the new federal financial framework, $45 billion from the Commonwealth flows to the states and territories every year. In light of these new arrangements this inquiry is topical and important, reviewing the operation of funding agreements which are major determinants of how vital services in areas such as health care and education are delivered throughout the country.

The annual report also details the findings of the committee's ongoing reviews of ANAO reports. The committee conducted reviews across a broad range of activities and topics. Notably, the committee conducted inquiries into audit reports on controversial programs such as the Green Loans and Home Insulation Programs. The committee also reviewed the ANAO's cross-portfolio audit into direct source procurement. The selection of this report for further examination shows how the committee is using its mandate to broaden the scope of its scrutiny across the public sector in hope of more systemic and cultural improvements.

The committee was particularly concerned with the ANAO's findings of high levels of direct source procurement instead of more competitive procurement options and put forward three recommendations in this area. In total the committee made eight recommendations across the 14 ANAO reports chosen for detailed review this year. These recommendations will support continued enhancements in the administration of government programs and funds.

Other substantive work by the committee was its review of the 2009-10 major projects report. The committee received four submissions for its detailed examination of this report and also held a private briefing and public hearing with the Defence Materiel Organisation and the ANAO. The committee tabled a report completing this inquiry in April 2011. The report demonstrates the JCPAA's commitment to enhance the parliament's scrutiny of major Defence projects with recommendations aimed to further develop the major projects report work program, to enhance the presentation of project-level data and to provide the committee with additional analysis to inform future improvements.

As highlighted in the annual report, the committee geared up its scrutiny of tax administration issues in 2010-11, positioning itself to become a central monitoring and scrutiny body of the Australian Taxation Office. In support of this the committee presented a report based on its eighth biennial hearing with the Commissioner of Taxation. This report is the first in a series of future reports in this area, and included nine recommendations to the Australian Taxation Office. Recommendations were made across four main areas, being service standards, compliance, policy development and external scrutiny.

Over the year the committee has been actively involved in broader engagements within the public accounts and audits space and, as a member of the Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees, has taken the opportunity to attend the council's biennial conferences. This platform has allowed members to engage with and to share the experiences of the committee with other like committees in Australia and its international counterparts. In April this year, for example, representations were made by the committee deputy chair and the committee secretary at the council's 11th biennial conference in Perth.

The activities performed by the committee over the last financial year show that from the onset this newly formed committee has been actively exercising its oversight powers to scrutinise the use of public monies on the parliament's behalf and to increase parliamentary and public awareness of government's operations. In particular, the annual report displays the committee's ongoing commitment to hold to account Commonwealth agencies' expenditure of public funds and, ultimately, the committee's influence on agencies to implement cultural change to support and drive improvements and efficiencies across the public service.

Looking forward, the committee is taking steps to strengthen its visibility, reach and impact across the public sector. An example of this is the committee recently calling upon external scrutiny bodies such as the ANAO, the Ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Taxation and other peak industry and consumer bodies to participate in the biennial hearings with the Commissioner of Taxation. The committee has also identified the need to work more closely with and support the work of other scrutiny bodies.

The committee is already readying itself for the additional duties it may perform next year with the proposed establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office. This office will be a major addition to both the parliament's and the public's toolbox for building better policy and in pulling apart sometimes opaque budget and election costings. The JCPAA recognises the significance of such an office and is looking forward to performing its future oversight functions. As chair of the committee, I will be working to ensure that the JCPAA supports the long-term credibility of the Parliamentary Budget Office and its speedy establishment. This includes the appointment of a Parliamentary Budget Officer with the necessary expertise and gravitas to embed the office in its rightful place as a central mechanism of this parliament.

With these achievements on record, I sincerely thank each committee member for the spirit in which this valuable work has been completed. In particular I would like to emphasise the bipartisan recommendations reached by committee members who have acted as true parliamentarians rather than just politicians in scrutinising the government's performance. I would also like to thank the secretariat for their ongoing work, often going without notice but certainly appreciated by all committee members. I commend the report to the House.