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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9732


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:23): I rise to speak on the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2011, which resulted from a long inquiry conducted by the Joint Standing Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, which the member for Mackellar and I participated in in the last parliament and have continued to participate in in the new parliament with the new chair of the committee following last year's election. It was a committee that had taken some time. It was also a review that was undertaken at a time when we saw the Australian government spend more money at one time than ever before and, I would have to say, waste more money at one time than ever before. We have heard an impassioned defence of the amendments which have just been tabled and I must say that I have only just got them, so it is very difficult to speak on something that has just been tabled by a backbencher of the government in the Main Committee. One point I would make, which I thought the member for Mackellar articulated quite well—but I think the member for Lyne either misunderstood or did not accept it—is that this chamber is designed for non-contentious legislation. The member for Lyne rightly said that no one refused leave when it was moved. When it was moved from the main chamber, it must be said, we did not see what was in this, so there has been quite a change of scenario, and I must say I have not yet had an opportunity to see what is in the government's amendments. I think the member for Mackellar has raised some legitimate concerns, because it does seem quite inconsistent that the Auditor-General can have the power to investigate a private company of his own volition but that, when it is a GBE, the parliament or the committee has to ask the Auditor-General to do so. I am interested in the explanation from the government of why that is the case, and I wonder if the government member at the table might have an explanation; I suspect not.

But let us go back to the review. This review of the power of the Auditor-General was done at a time when the Commonwealth government was spending billions of dollars through the state governments on, most famously, the Building the Education Revolution or school halls program. The school halls program, whether it was a good decision to build school halls or not, was absolutely riddled with waste and mismanagement, particularly in New South Wales and some parts of Victoria; even in my own electorate I had numerous examples. We still have numerous examples where the state Labor governments failed terribly in their duties in implementing this program—using Commonwealth money. We heard the Auditor-General of Queensland, as part of another inquiry just recently, make the point that the reason for this failure in spending was that the way the federal government had gone about laying out the guidelines led to the mismanagement by the states. So there are very good reasons, I think—very good reasons—why we should extend the power of the Auditor-General, who does a very good job in ensuring Australia government money is spent properly. I agree with the member for Lyne, absolutely, that that is exactly what we want the Auditor-General to do: in an independent fashion, investigate and ensure that the Australian government's money, taxpayers' money—other people's money, let us not forget—is being spent properly. And yet in the last three years we have seen waste like never before.

The Auditor-General should have the full ability to find why there was so much waste in those programs, for which billions of dollars were given to state governments. I think the amendments that we have moved, to clarify the role of the private sector and its interaction with the federal government, are wise, because this is about how federal government money, taxpayers' money, is spent by government entities. We need to do that because of the precedents created by the Rudd and Gillard governments—their inability to create programs properly and spend money without wasting billions of dollars.

It has been estimated that, even if you are taking the Orgill review, of a small group of the schools involved in the BER program, there has been well over a billion dollars of waste in that program—extraordinary amounts of money. We do not know, and we cannot get answers from the government because they flick it to the state governments who flick it back to the federal government.

We need that power. I agree with the member for Mackellar's amendments. I cannot speak on the government's amendments because it is so late in the day—they tabled them today—and I expect some answers now from the government member involved.