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Wednesday, 15 May 1985
Page: 2007

Senator COLSTON —On behalf of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, I present the Committee's first report on the examination of annual reports.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator COLSTON —by leave-As honourable senators know, under Senate sessional order 7, annual reports tabled in the Senate are referred by the President to the legislative and general purpose standing committee which he deems appropriate. Forty-one annual reports of government departments, statutory corporations, non-statutory bodies and the operations of certain Acts of Parliament are referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts. These are listed in appendix 1 to the report.

The Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts intends to produce a series of short reports on matters arising from its continuing examination of annual reports. The report I table today is concerned with the timeliness of reporting. Other reports will deal with particular annual reports and with topical issues raised in reports.

In the course of its examination of annual reports the Committee will conduct hearings with representatives of some of the agencies whose reports are referred to it. In this regard I mention that last Monday, 13 May 1985, the Committee took evidence from representatives of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority about certification and assessment in secondary education in the Australian Capital Territory. These issues were referred to in the Authority's 1983-84 annual report.

As I have mentioned, the Committee's first report addresses the question of when the annual reports of departments and authorities became available to the responsible Ministers and to the Parliament. In the Committee's view, timeliness in reporting is of paramount importance for effective parliamentary scrutiny of the activities of the Executive Government.

In this first report on the examination of annual reports, the Committee has found that, with two possible exceptions, all bodies whose reports it has scrutinised are aware of the statutory requirements and government policies relating to the presentation of annual reports. It is concerned, however, that a significant minority of the annual reports it has examined were not presented to the responsible Minister within six months of the end of the year, as is required by statute or government policy. For an annual report to be of any use to the Parliament and to the public, it should be presented as soon as possible after the end of the year and certainly within six months. The Committee considers it unsatisfactory that about 30 per cent of statutory corporations found it necessary to seek extensions of time to present their reports. Although there were generally good reasons for delay, the Committee considers that obstructions preventing the timely submission of annual reports must be overcome if Parliament is to exercise effective scrutiny of the agencies of government. Due to the early rising of Parliament in 1984, most annual reports were not tabled until late February 1985. This was unavoidable. Nevertheless, where it is obvious that a long delay will occur between the presentation of a report to a Minister and its tabling in Parliament, reporting bodies should take advantage of the existing arrangements for the distribution of reports to senators and members out of session.

In conclusion, I congratulate the majority of government agencies on their efforts to produce timely annual reports. I exhort the others to follow the example of those agencies which made the necessary effort and produced their reports on time. I commend the report to the Senate.