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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3315

Mr PUNCH —On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, I present the 214th report of the Committee, relating to Finance minute on Report 181- Canberra Commercial Development Authority, and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr PUNCH —Report 214 of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts contains the Department of Finance minute on the Committee's Report 181-Canberra Commercial Development Authority. The Department of Finance minute is the formal mechanism used for responding to the Committee's recommendations. The Committee' s report on the Canberra Commercial Development Authority-CCDA-was tabled in Parliament on 16 September 1980. The Finance minute was forwarded to the Chairman of the Committee on 19 May 1983. Further information was sought on 22 September 1983, as a result of changed circumstances, namely, the Government's decision not to sell the Belconnen Mall. This was supplied through the Department of Finance on 28 October 1983.

The Committee's inquiry arose out of comments in the Auditor-General's Supplementary Report to Parliament in 1977-78. The Auditor-General reported to Parliament several unsatisfactory features concerning the management of CCDA which included failure to observe the provision of its legislation in investment in bank bills without the approval of the Treasurer; payment of salaries and allowances to staff without the approval of the Public Service Board; and unusual practices followed by CCDA with respect to the payment of underwriting fees. CCDA also delayed the publishing of its 1978-79 and later financial statements until a dispute with the Department of Finance over the capitalisation of expenditure net of income and with the Auditor-General over the treatment of depreciation of buildings had been resolved.

In its report the Committee made a number of specific recommendations and notes that most have been accepted. Specifically, a nominee of the Department of Territories and Local Government has been appointed to the Authority; the Authority now advertises all staff positions, the Public Works Committee Act 1969 was amended in 1981 to incorporate most statutory authorities within its scope; and the requirement for all authorities to report within six months was incorporated in amendments to the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 in June 1983.

On 14 June 1983 the Committee met separately with the Chairman and officers of the Public Service Board, the Auditor-General and his officers and officers of the Department of Finance. Except for the outstanding issue of buildings depreciation, the Committee was assured that all matters outstanding with CCDA had been satisfactorily resolved. The Committee was later informed that the issue of depreciation had been resolved and the first unqualified accounts of the Authority, for 1981-82, were tabled on 14 November 1983.

The Committee also recommended in Report 181 that members of the CCDA Board who were the subject of criticism in its report not be reappointed. However, as a result of a government decision to sell the Belconnen Mall and wind up the activities of CCDA the Committee reluctantly agreed to the Board's reappointment . In light of the subsequent decision of the Government not to sell the Mall, the Committee sought further information through the Department of Finance on the relevant recommendations contained in its report and on the decision to reappoint members of CCDA. In this response, it was stated that particular weight was placed on the advice from the Attorney-General to the Committee in January 1982. The Committee considered that this advice was inadequate.

The Committee therefore wishes to reiterate its reasons for making its recommendations. The Committee's inquiry revealed a number of shortcomings in the administration and management of CCDA. It felt that these shortcomings reflected poorly on the management of CCDA. CCDA was established on 1 October 1974 by Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 40 1979 under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910. Throughout the inquiry it was clear to the Committee that the Authority ignored the Parliament by its disregard of certain provisions of the Ordinance, which the Authority considered to inhibit its commercial operations.

The sections of the Ordinance which placed some restriction on the independence of the Authority are common to most statutory authorities and are fairly basic if some measure of public control is to be retained. Consequently, the Committee believed that the Authority's managers were not willing to accept the responsibilities attached to a public authority. For these reasons the Committee recommended:

at the conclusion of the current period of office of members of the CCDA, the Minister should consider restructuring the Authority and those who were subject to criticism in this report not be reappointed;

In the course of the Committee's inquiry serious allegations were made concerning the security of tenders. Accordingly, the Committee requested that the former Attorney-General initiate a full inquiry to examine the evidence given to the Committee, the witnesses and any other persons or necessary documents to determine the truth of the allegation. A response from the Attorney -General's Department was not received until 6 January 1982. The advice from the former Attorney-General stated there was no evidence establishing that the CCDA Chairman, Mr Pead, or a contractor were involved in any illegal or unlawful act. In a subsequent in camera hearing to discuss the delay in the Attorney-General's advice, the Crown Solicitor submitted that his office had not looked beyond the evidence supplied to the Committee. The Committee was very dissatisified with this approach.

While the Committee found no evidence of impropriety on the part of any member of the Board or staff of CCDA, the Committee considered that some measure of responsibility for the shortcomings in the Authority's administration attached to the two of its members most actively concerned in the Authority's affairs since its inception, namely the Chairman, Mr J. Pead, and former Executive Director, Mr H. Calderwood. Nevertheless, after critical analysis of all the evidence, the Committee concluded that it would have reached the same conclusions relating to the reappointment of the members of CCDA who were the subject of criticism. I advise the House that the Committee notes the assurances outlined in the Finance minute and delivered personally to the Committee by the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) with regard to the reappointments made to the CCDA. The Public Accounts Committee intends to keep the reference open and will monitor the activities of CCDA both in the discharge of its duties in the management of the Belconnen Mall and its intended expansion of activities. I commend the report to honourable members.