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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2370


Mr ROBB (10:41 AM) —The main purpose of the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2011 is to extend the powers of the Auditor-General to audit not only government entities and agencies but also, critically, contracting third parties. While the coalition may support the intent of this legislation, unfortunately, given the circumstances, we cannot support this bill for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is an increase in the regulatory burden. This bill would require any supplier to any government agency to be prepared to undergo a full investigation by the Auditor-General at any time. This would place an added cost and compliance burden on business. I put it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, that under Labor over the last three and a bit years we have seen the greatest growth of government in our lives—and that includes the Whitlam era. If supported, this bill would just further increase that burden for any business doing work with the government.

The reporting requirements today for many hundreds of thousands of small and mid-tier businesses are becoming a major impost, a major cost and a major factor in the poor profitability of so many of those companies. There has to be a point where we start to turn this flood backwards. There have been literally thousands of new regulations in the last three and a bit years. This government’s whole rationale is to make decisions on behalf of others in the community. In this case, it is making decisions on behalf of not only other government instrumentalities but also the many hundreds of thousands of small businesses the intent of this legislation would extend to. In doing so, it will create a very significant impediment to many of these companies doing business with the government. I am sure this is not the intent of the bill mover in any way and I do respect the clear intent of this legislation.

With the level of scrutiny and intrusion that would come about with a study by the Auditor-General of businesses’ practices, many small- and medium-sized businesses will choose not to do business with a government agency as a consequence. Therefore, only the biggest companies with the resources available to prepare and comply with an Auditor-General investigation may be willing to tender for contracts under these circumstances. This legislation will, I suspect unwittingly but very quickly and in a very major way, provide a significant impediment and discouragement for so many businesses to continue to seek government business.

This legislation could lead to greater cost of government services. Many of these businesses would face the prospect of an Auditor-General inquiry sometime in the future—and it would be a real prospect when you look at the myriad programs that have wasted thousands of millions of dollars in the last three and a bit years under this government. The programs these businesses were in good faith seeking to do work for could well end up being the subject of an Auditor-General inquiry, given the record of this government and its total incompetence in terms of wasting public moneys and mismanaging so many programs. As a consequence, many of these contractors and others will build into the tender price increased costs to cover the potential audit requirements.

So, on so many fronts, this is simply an addition to the reporting requirements. Also it will chase the waste of taxpayers’ money after the event, after the horse has bolted. The proposition by the coalition for an office of due diligence is the way to go. We oppose this bill. (Time expired)