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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 452


Senator PETER RAE(10.08) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

I welcome, on behalf of the Opposition, the Government's response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations. I would like to speak briefly in relation to that. I note that the Committee, in its report, said that there are several issues it intends to investigate further. These include the guidelines for the creation, structure and operations of non-statutory bodies, including such matters as the nature and terms of appointments, mechanisms for the review of existing non-statutory bodies, their functions, responsibilities and performance, and the need for each of them to continue to exist.

The Senate Committee also said that it intended to examine further the accountability of non-statutory bodies, including the requirement for them to report to Parliament, and the detailed information required. The Committee referred to the fact that it would look at financial arrangements for non-statutory bodies, including their detailed presentation in departmental estimates; the means by which they are funded and their cost effectiveness; the categorisation of non-statutory bodies and the relationship of this categorisation to that of statutory authorities, especially the categorisation of incorporated bodies. The Committee said that it intends to embark upon a more detailed survey of all non-statutory bodies by questionnaire and that the proposed questionnaire will seek more information on finance and expenditure and will canvass the views of non-statutory body members on the operations of those bodies. The Committee also said that in the meantime it recommended that each department should include in its annual report a list summarising all non-statutory bodies in that portfolio and that the list should include at least as basic information the principal activities of the body, its membership and terms of appointment and its staffing, and an indication of those non-statutory bodies created or abolished during the year under review. This will at least make the task of monitoring non-statutory bodies a little easier in the future.

I wish to commend the report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, which follows the reports related to the statutory authorities of the Commonwealth.

It is surprising that in the past so many bodies have been created which have not come within the purview of the Senate as a House of review in its scrutiny role. There have been varying aspects of the way in which funds are made available to such bodies, and the start that is being taken here is an important implementation of the attitudes which were adopted by the present Government in the policy it put forward on 9 February 1983 and which I assume it intends to continue.

I refer to the policy entitled 'Labour and the Quality of Government', in which it indicated that it accepted the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations in relation to statutory authorities generally. In particular, the following indication was given on page 21 of that policy document:

That an Annual Reports Act be enacted along the lines recommended by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, to provide for detailed parliamentary reporting requirements for public authorities.

I believe that the recommendation of the Committee in relation to non-statutory bodies is consistent with the recommendations it has previously made, which generally have been accepted by successive Federal governments in this country. I believe this is an important step along the way but there is much further to go and I hope that in the very near future there will be some response from the Government in relation to what it is doing about an annual reports Act which, as I said, was one of the undertakings given in the policy paper published more than two years ago.

I wish finally to indicate that the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration has been awarding a prize for the best report by a department, in accordance with guidelines set down by the Institute. This award is now in its third year and we have seen a vast improvement take place in relation to the form, presentation and timeliness of reports from government departments. This is a welcome development and the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration is to be congratulated for the initiative it has taken to improve the accountability of government to the Parliament and to the people. I am sure that the matters we have discussed will ment in the policy it put forward on 9 February 1983 and which I assume it intends to continue.

I refer to the policy entitled 'Labour and the Quality of Government', in which it indicated that it accepted the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations in relation to statutory authorities generally. In particular, the following indication was given on page 21 of that policy document:

That an Annual Reports Act be enacted along the lines recommended by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, to provide for detailed parliamentary reporting requirements for public authorities.

I believe that the recommendation of the Committee in relation to non-statutory bodies is consistent with the recommendations it has previously made, which generally have been accepted by successive Federal governments in this country. I believe this is an important step along the way but there is much further to go and I hope that in the very near future there will be some response from the Government in relation to what it is doing about an annual reports Act which, as I said, was one of the undertakings given in the policy paper published more than two years ago.

I wish finally to indicate that the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration has been awarding a prize for the best report by a department, in accordance with guidelines set down by the Institute. This award is now in its third year and we have seen a vast improvement take place in relation to the form, presentation and timeliness of reports from government departments. This is a welcome development and the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration is to be congratulated for the initiative it has taken to improve the accountability of government to the Parliament and to the people. I am sure that the matters we have discussed will form a further part of the guidelines established by the Institute, following the recommendations of the Senate Committee and the Government's acceptance of those recommendations. The net result of the whole lot is an improvement in the standard of accountability of sections of government to the Parliament and through Parliament to the people. It is to be welcomed, and the Opposition welcomes it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.