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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9730


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (11:13): Having heard the speech of the member for Petrie, I find it again quite unsatisfactory that the government, instead of having the responsible minister come and argue this case, sends along a backbencher. I find that, again, an insult to the importance of this question. I have just had the opportunity to read the opening remarks in the explanatory memorandum, some of which were read word for word in the speech of the honourable member. But what he is doing is once again reading down the ability of the Auditor-General to audit GBEs as a right, which I spoke about a little while ago. I will put precisely what happened when I began to be interested in this question, which was when we were building this very Parliament House. It was quite clear that rorting was going on by the trade unions in kickback payments, and I moved in the Joint Standing Committee of Public Accounts and Audit that we allow the Auditor-General to conduct an audit of the building of this building. The government of the day and their union mates opposed it rigorously, and no audit was ever done. And now the one decent thing that the member for Lyne's bill did was to allow the Auditor-General to make a decision to make an audit as a right. I presume he has now agreed to this watering down of that power, which was the one decent thing it was doing. Listening to that speech, I presume it also reads down the ability of the Auditor-General to do that important of task of following the trail where money is given to state governments. They were the two big important things that came out of the Public Accounts and Audit Committee. Now we get the government amendments which negate virtually the important issues which is government business work and should be done and we are left with the ridiculous situation where the powers are only extended to allow auditing of private firms. I presume, when we hear from the member for Lyne, that he has agreed to this watering down of those two important issues and left in place the one issue where it is important that my amendments be agreed to. If I read from this exploratory memorandum the words were—just listen to it:

GBEs are subject to competitive pressures and disciplines that do not apply to government bodies. To the greatest extent possible they should be subject to the same audit arrangements as their competitors.

Really? And those conditions do not apply to private firms? What a joke! If there were any decency in this place, any real understanding of the importance of the role of the Auditor-General—which is a different function from the auditor and the auditing function in the private sector—if there were any reasonable attitude then the member for Lyne would say that his bill has been destroyed in total in the important parts, and that part which relates to the private sector has now become the dominant issue. It is an absolute outrage. For this to be dumped on the parliament in this chamber, where we are supposed to have non-contentious issues, and taken out of the main debate so that it somehow will disappear off the radar is an insult to the importance of the office of Auditor-General.

The best thing that could come from this is that the member for Lyne should withdraw his bill entirely and start again. No doubt he has been talking with the government and come to some arrangements which he will tell us about. But I think we have to put on the record that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit brought in a report dealing with very important issues—

Mr Oakeshott: Unanimously.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: (1) the ability to trace money from the Commonwealth into territories and states.

Mr Oakeshott: Unanimously.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: (2) to allow them to audit GBEs

Mr Oakeshott: Unanimously.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Indeed unanimously, indeed. Here the government is going against its own Labor Party members in that committee and the committee's recommendations, watering them down to the extent that they are now irrelevant, particularly when it comes to the right of the Auditor-General to audit GBEs. I will be interested to hear how we arrived at this watering down of the solid recommendations of the committee.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before calling the honourable member for Lyne I advise honourable members that unfortunately the clock is not showing the correct time. I understand that the Serjeant-at-Arms is endeavouring to correct not only this clock but others that are currently defective.