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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2239

Senator WATSON —I present report No. 229 of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts which examines the reports of the Auditor-General for 1981-82 and September 1982.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator WATSON —I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a short statement relating to the report.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

Honourable senators will be aware that each year the Committee examines recently published reports of the Auditor-General. Following the tabling of the reports of the Auditor-General for the year ended 30 June 1982 and for September 1982 the Committee sought written submissions from 15 departments and authorities in respect of 18 items.

This report analyses the responses by departments and authorities to the Public Accounts Committee explaining the criticisms raised by the Auditor-General in his reports. The Committee has continued to monitor developments in the matters raised in these reports of the Auditor-General.

The Committee took public evidence on only one item-Australian industrial research and development incentives, administered by the Department of Science and Technology.

Honourable senators will know that the object of the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Act 1976 is to promote the development and improve the efficiency of Australian industry by encouraging industrial research and development in Australia in matters relating to science and technology.

The Committee is aware that much has been done to redress the general lack of administrative control over grants made under the Act. The Committee remains concerned that there is not enough time or resources to carry out necessary administrative procedures on all applications and reviews of projects. For instance, only 17 of the 600 operating and 71 of the 220 completed project grants in 1983-84 were assessed technically.

One of the most time consuming tasks outlined by the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board is verifying that expenditures were made in accordance with the requirements of the Act. The Committee has recommended in the report that a verifying statement from a professional accountant certifying that grant moneys have been expended in accordance with the requirements of the Act be provided.

The Committee remains concerned that some administrative changes may not be adequate to control effectively the disbursement of significant sums of public money, $65.9m in 1983-84. The Committee reviewed internal audit sections in three departments. The Committee believes that progress by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Social Security has been satisfactory.

However, the Committee found that the Department of Communications has not been able to keep its internal audit section fully staffed nor has it been able to commence ADP auditing. The Committee finds this unsatisfactory, particularly as the Department of Communications provides internal audit support to two statutory bodies, the Special Broadcasting Service and the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, as well as its own.

Many reports of the Auditor-General-the latest being the March 1984 report-have referred to the potential for overpayments and the need for review of the continuing eligibility of pensioners in receipt of telephone rental concessions. Following earlier Auditor-General's Office representations regarding eligibility of those receiving the concession, individual reviews were made by departments in all States resulting in annual savings of $1.8m.

A working party has been established comprising representatives from Telecom and the Departments of Social Security and Veterans' Affairs to examine the rationalisation of the administrative arrangements. The Committee is concerned that this matter continues unresolved. I commend this report to honourable senators.