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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 3001

Mr RUDDOCK —On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, I present the 273rd report of the Committee, the response to report No. 240-the report of the Auditor-General of March 1984.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr RUDDOCK —by leave-Each year the Joint Committee of Public Accounts examines recently published reports of the Auditor- General. Following the tabling of the report of the Auditor-General of March 1984, the Committee sought written submissions from 16 departments in respect of 19 items raised by the Auditor-General. The Committee's findings were presented in its 240th report to the Parliament on 28 November 1985. The items raised in the Committee's earlier report have largely elicited a satisfactory response. Of the outstanding matter, the most significant were telephone rental concessions to pensioners and the National Biological Standards Laboratory.

In its earlier report, the Committee expressed concern that the matter of telephone rental concessions to pensioners, which has been raised in many reports of the Auditor-General, remained unresolved. The Committee is satisfied, at this stage, with the discount voucher system currently being introduced, but recognises that this system needs to be tested in practice. The Committee is aware of concerns expressed by representative organisations about the voucher system and will keep this matter under review. If the Committee finds that concerns remain once the voucher system is fully operational, then it will examine the operation of the system further.

In relation to the National Biological Standards Laboratory, the Committee is concerned that insufficient and inadequate resources continue to prevent the laboratory from carrying out its functions effectively. This, together with other information available, has prompted the Committee to embark upon a public inquiry into the National Biological Standards Laboratory. This review will encompass laboratory standards, the quality and efficacy of pharmaceuticals and generic drugs on the Australian market, the testing of these drugs and the acceptance of overseas testing, and the efficiency and effectiveness with which the laboratory carries out its other functions. The Committee will also examine the resources available to the National Biological Standards Laboratory. I believe that this will be a very important inquiry and one which, in view of the considerable public interest already shown in the matter, will evoke considerable interest.

In conclusion, the Committee would like to express its serious concern on a matter becoming increasingly common in responses to Committee reports; that is, the length of the time taken to respond to the findings in these reports and the growing number of matters which remain outstanding. The Committee is particularly concerned that in some instances departments are taking an inordinate amount of time to deal with specific and immediate administrative problems identified by the Committee, particularly when raised previously by the Auditor-General. Accordingly, the Committee expects a more determined effort from departments to ensure timeliness in dealing with and responding to the findings of the Committee. I commend the report to honourable members.