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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1218

Mr OAKESHOTT (6:00 PM) —I rise to support the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2008 [2009]. I will be brief. It is really to get on the record that, from my point of view, to protect and enhance the integrity of the system that we live and work in, you need to have a good, functioning and, dare I say, independent Auditor-General, working in the best interests of public administration. I am therefore an unashamed Auditor-General junkie. I love a good Auditor-General. I do think the role is critical in the delivery of good, open, democratic systems. Therefore, I would certainly hope this is an enhancement of the role and the powers of an Auditor-General in Australia today rather than a butchering or a legislative process that is somehow dampening the important role that the Auditor-General plays.

A good Auditor-General should have the full resourcing of this place. It should have full legal protection. I note that there are some comments in reference to that in, for example, the parliamentary Bills Digest. I would hope that this place recognises the importance of full legal and parliamentary protection for a good, functioning Auditor-General. The point I have previously made—and I would hope this place recognises it—is that, as uncomfortable as it can be at times, particularly for executive governments, the independence of the Auditor-General and his or her role is of utmost importance. I would hope that is the genesis of this bill and, if so, it is warmly welcomed.

The other reason for quickly jumping on this bill is a suggestion that I would like to put forward, in particular, for the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit and its working relationship with the Auditor-General. Coming from the public accounts committee in New South Wales, I think they just started to go into new but welcome territory in representation. Not only was it an exercise of Auditor’s-General reports in New South Wales being dealt with and dealt with by the various agencies at the time in regard to recommendations and responses; what I thought was a clever and welcome step forward was that 12 months later the recommendations relating to the agencies that were audited were revisited and an explanation was sought from those agencies if the recommendations had not been adopted 12 months after the delivery of a report into the public arena. So that was very much an exercise for the auditor to deal with.

The beauty of the public accounts committee and the working relationship with the Auditor in New South Wales was that it allowed that backup, that blunt instrument, to be there. If, in dealing with the Audit Office, various departments or agencies were being belligerent about why various recommendations had not been adopted, the black book of the public accounts committee could be pulled out and various agencies could be hauled in to explain themselves in a full, open forum in front of the committee. It is a worthwhile suggestion for the national parliament to pick up. We can pull so many reports off the shelf where recommendations emerge, but reports come and go and, dare I say, delegations come and go. At times there is a sense in this place that recommendations come and then go nowhere. If we can improve the process of revisiting reports after 12 months, or even longer, I think it would be a welcome addition and hopefully one for consideration by this place.