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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3416

Mr O'KEEFE(8.00) —The 222nd report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts is an examination of the March 1982 Auditor-General 's report. Each year the Committee examines recently published reports of the Auditor-General. Following the tabling of the March 1982 report, the Committee sought written submissions from five departments in respect of seven of the items raised in the report. After discussions with the Auditor-General and departmental officers, the Committee selected one item, HMAS Tobruk, for public inquiry. Another item, Commonwealth Medical Benefits: Reimbursement to Registered Medical Benefits Organisations, was addressed during the inquiry into medical fraud and overservicing. Submissions were received in respect of the Department of Defence-mobile radio terminals and helicopter for FFG-07 class guided missile frigates; the Department of Home Affairs and Environment-Norfolk Island administration; the Department of Primary Industry-levies, tax and charges; and the Department of Social Security-Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service.

Dealing with the Department of Defence, mobile radio terminals, the Auditor- General noted that in respect of this project a significant commitment of expenditure on production items had been approved before prototype testing was completed. This occurred notwithstanding the Committee's recommendations in the 137th and 150th reports, which concluded that contracts of a nature such as this with significant developmental content required the production of a prototype which should be subject to exhaustive testing before production proceeded. In the case of the mobile radio terminals, the Department has stated that production of the units will not proceed until all tests required under the contract have been successfully completed on each of the initial production items. The Department is confident that the extensive level of testing specified will give a reasonable assurance that the equipment will perform satisfactorily.

The Auditor-General also criticised the tender evaluation process which it considered to be inconsistent with stated Government policy. The Committee shared the Auditor-General's concern and will be considering this matter in more detail during its inquiry into project management in the Defence Force.

In respect of the helicopter for FFG-07 class guided missile frigates, the Department of Defence is procuring four FFG-07 class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy. The purchase includes 12 helicopters for tactical surveillance and reconnaisance. The Auditor-General criticised the Department for the time taken-three years-to agree on the functions and tasks for the armed helicopters, and to agree on the precise level of capability required for each task. This delayed the selection process for the helicopter and in turn will impact on the operational capability of the frigates. The Committee, while acknowledging the need to carry out a careful evaluation process, is concerned at the time taken to arrive at a choice of helicopter, particularly in view of its impact on the frigates surveillance capability. In view of the delays so far witnessed in this project, the Committee has requested that any further delays that could impact on the embarkation of the helicopters beyond 1988 be reported to the Committee.

Dealing with the Deparment of Home Affairs and Environment, the Auditor-General drew attention to a number of irregularities in the administration of the financial affairs of Norfolk Island. The Committee is precluded by the Public Accounts Act from examining matters internal to the administration of Norfolk Island. The Department of Home Affairs and Environment and the Auditor-General are seeking to clarify and resolve these inadequacies in the audit provisions of the Norfolk Island legislation.

In relation to the Department of Primary Industry, the Auditor-General referred to several unsatisfactory features covering the collection of levies, taxes and charges by the Department. The Department has taken action to overcome the administrative and legislative difficulties associated with these problems.

Turning to the Department of Social Security, the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service provides rehabilitation programs to persons suffering from a physical or mental disability which is considered a substantial handicap to undertaking employment or resuming an independent or semi-independent life in their own homes. The Auditor-General doubted whether sufficient information was available from past records to reliably assess the results of the training programs the Service administered. The Department has undertaken a complete review of its statistical collection procedures. The new computerised system should dramatically improve the Department's data collection and statistical analysis facilities. The Committee believes that the system should be reviewed by the Auditor-General at some later stage to evaluate the systems capabilities.

The Committee recommended that the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service seek ways to exploit this new system to improve the analytical and reporting capabilities of its casework teams situated at its various centres around Australia. Further, the Committee recommended that the results and experience stemming from casework studies should be collated, analysed and made available to appropriate professional organisations in Australia.

Copies of this report will not be available for general distribution until Thursday, 8 December 1983. However, copies are held by the Parliamentary Library . I commend the report to honourable members.

Question resolved in the affirmative.