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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3760

Commonwealth Grant Guidelines

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (14:29): My question is to the Prime Minister. The Commonwealth Grant Guidelines state that 'agencies are responsible for advising their ministers on the requirements of the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines, and must take appropriate and timely steps to do so'. Today the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit released two lists, one of 33 instances and one of 11 instances in which the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines have not been followed. What assurances, therefore, can the Prime Minister give the House that all ministers will make sure all agencies follow their obligations under these Commonwealth Grant Guidelines?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:29): I thank the member for Lyne for his question. I know he is centrally interested in this because of the role he plays on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit. Since coming to government we have made a significant number of reforms to improve whole-of-government transparency and accountability in grants programs. So we established the Commonwealth Grant Guidelines in 2009 following the highly critical Auditor-General report into the program run by the Howard government—which came, for good reasons, to be known as 'regional rorts'. Having seen that slamming report, in which the word 'corruption' was used, we determined that it was appropriate to act.

Our government has implemented the first ever comprehensive guidelines, established at the Commonwealth level, to ensure transparency in federal grants programs. I note that the Audit Office, in its report, has said—positively—about this development:

For the first time, the Government's expectations for Ministers, agencies and officials when performing duties in relation to grants administration, were clearly articulated.

The office of the auditor has examined some 800 ministerial briefs. It has identified only 33 cases of under-reporting of grants in a minister's electorate. So there is that transparency, and I think that that transparency is a good thing.

With the Auditor-General now having pointed out this matter, the message must be received by ministers and by departments—because, as the member would be aware, in the audit report there is reference to the conduct of departments in dealing with these questions—that these guidelines must be honoured and must be honoured consistently. But I would point out to the House that we have seen a considerable improvement from the free-for-all we saw under the Howard government. Overwhelmingly the Audit Office, in looking at these briefs, has found compliance. It has found noncompliance in a limited number of cases.

The SPEAKER: The Prime Minister will return to the question.

Ms GILLARD: The message is now clear to all ministers and all departments about the need for compliance with these guidelines.