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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2371

Mrs D’ATH (10:46 AM) —I am pleased to speak on the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2011 both as the Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit and on behalf of the government. I congratulate the member for Lyne for bringing this bill before the House. The original Audit Act of 1901 was the fourth act to be passed by the first federal parliament. This is a clear indication of how significant the role of proper auditing and accountability was to the parliament at that time and continues to be today.

It was the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit’s predecessor, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, that initiated a number of inquiries that saw the evolution of the laws surrounding the proper auditing and accountability of government. Under the Joint Committee of Public Accounts we saw inquiries in 1989, 1994, 1996 and 2001. The act was replaced as a consequence of the introduction by the Hon. Kim Beazley MP of the Auditor-General Bill 1994. It was endorsed after an inquiry by the committee. That bill was replaced in 1997 by the Auditor-General Act 1997.

The functions performed by the Auditor-General continue to be a matter of great significance to this parliament today. It is important that the Auditor-General has the appropriate powers to respond to the audit challenges of today. I was very surprised by the commentary I just heard from the opposition that chasing money after the event was a waste of time. That ignores the important role of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit and the Australian National Audit Office and the important role that the Auditor-General has in ensuring that we have proper accountability and auditing processes in place in relation to all of the government’s responsibilities.

It was a unanimous decision, as the member for Lyne has stated, in relation to Report 419 handed down by the current committee in the 43rd Parliament. Much of the work on that inquiry was actually done by the 42nd Parliament’s Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit. I acknowledge the hard work by the then chair, Sharon Grierson, her committee members and the secretariat in that inquiry.

Report 419 of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit made a series of recommendations aimed at ensuring that accountability and the role of the Auditor-General are kept current in today’s challenges. The report recommended a range of measures. The most significant recommendations related to amendments to the act to allow the Auditor-General to assess the performance of bodies that receive Commonwealth money when there is a corresponding or reciprocal responsibility to deliver outcomes. In other words, the report recommended that the Auditor-General have the ability to follow the money when Commonwealth money is provided to other bodies, such as state agencies or contractors, for the delivery of Commonwealth outcomes.

This bill is intended to implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit report. The government broadly supports the adoption of these measures and intent of this bill. I foreshadow that the government intends to move amendments to the bill to clarify the new powers for the Auditor-General and to ensure that the new provisions will function in line with the intent of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit report. A number of these amendments cover technical matters that have been resolved in discussions with the Auditor-General since the introduction of the original bill. I take this opportunity once again to thank the members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, both past and present, and the secretariat of the committee for their work in producing Report 419.