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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 1219


Mr BYRNE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (6:05 PM) —in reply—I would like to thank the members that have made a contribution to this debate, particularly the members for Sturt, Werriwa and Lyne. I say to the member for Lyne that I have heard the Auditor-General being called many things, but you being an Auditor-General junkie is certainly one for the books. I am sure that will warm the cockles of the heart of the Auditor-General. I am sure he will read that contribution with some measure of approval. On a personal note, I have listened to a number of your contributions and I welcome your presence in this place. I have been very impressed with what I have heard. You are in fact adding value to this place. Thanks very much for your contributions.


Dr Stone —You like to suck up to the Independents.


Mr BYRNE —I am not sucking up to the Independents; I am basically saying what I think. The changes to the act proposed by the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2008 [2009], whilst relatively minor, are an important step towards encouraging open communication and improving the fairness, the effectiveness and the integrity of the audit process. The bill will provide legislative authority for a number of administrative practices within the Australian National Audit Office which were introduced following the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit report. It also includes amendments which are additional to the JCPAA report recommendations which improve the act and achieve alignment with the other legislation.

I just wanted to reiterate a couple of points. These are—and it is very important to say it—the first substantial amendments to the Auditor-General Act since the JCPAA issued its report in 2001. Some of the recommendations have been implemented administratively by the Auditor-General. Amending the act will provide legislative certainty for these administrative actions. A number of the amendments also build on or are additional to the JCPAA’s recommendations, as other areas of the Auditor-General’s Act which could be strengthened and require amendments have been identified in the time since the report.

As I have said, the proposed amendments appear to be minor. For example, they clarify and extend the distribution of the performance audit reports, they make provision for the inclusion of comments on proposed reports and final reports, and they clarify the circumstances in which audit information made available to entities and to other parties in the course of a performance audit may be disclosed.

The bill will also update the penalty provisions in the Auditor-General Act to bring them in line with the current criminal law policy. The member for Lyne was talking about greater openness, greater accountability and greater capacity for people to be able to respond to a report. An Auditor-General’s report is a pretty important thing, and there can be some pretty damning recommendations that arise out of the report. You can have a report that, let us face it, could in effect be damning of an entire agency, a person, a chief executive officer et cetera, and one of the refreshing things in this piece of legislation is that it has a provision where people have a right to have look at what the Auditor-General is putting forward and the right of reply—which, in my view, offers the balance, fairness, openness, accountability and transparency which are required.

In summing up, I think these amendments are characterised as minor changes but they are in keeping with greater accountability and a greater capacity for people to respond to what could be adversarial reports by the Auditor-General. In that vein and in that spirit, and with the consent of the members present, I commend this bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.