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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 922


Senator WATSON —I present the 255th report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts and seek leave to make a short statement.

Leave granted.


Senator WATSON —The Joint Committee of Public Accounts 255th report informs the Parliament of the Committee's activities for the period 1 January 1985 to 30 June 1986. It also provides a convenient medium for the 16 member Committee, drawn from three major parties-in both the House of Representatives and the Senate-to review its own activities and to suggest areas of public and financial administration which may need further review and reform.

The period under review has seen us conducting a number of important and wide-ranging inquiries, which have highlighted the need for change in many areas of public administration. For example, in the health area there was an inquiry into medical fraud and overservicing in pathology services and in defence an inquiry into project management, while in the Public Service domain there have been several reviews of proposed major acquisitions of computing equipment.

These inquiries are but a few of those conducted by the Committee. The Committee's duties have continued to grow and this report notes that the Committee is now charged with extensive reviewing of responsibilities in relation to the public accounts and public expenditure.

The Committee, in its traditional role, examines the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Commonwealth, examines all reports of the Auditor-General including reports of efficiency audits and also reviews all Government responses to its reports, known as finance minutes. In recent years the Committee has been directed to review, at the discretion of Cabinet, major computing acquisition proposals put forward by the Australian Public Service. The Committee is also charged with the responsibility of examining the financial affairs of authorities of the Commonwealth and intergovernmental bodies.

During the period under review the Committee has also been given two additional tasks: One is to assess the suitability of auditors to be appointed to statutory marketing authorities; and the other is to approve the guidelines for the form and content of departmental annual reports. Whilst this range of duties often gives the Committee a burdensome work load, it continues to be served well by a dedicated and hard working secretariat. The Committee acknowledges, with great appreciation, the contribution made to its work by the members of its secretariat and its panel of advisers.

Mr Deputy President, on behalf of the Committee, may I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work and leadership of Senator George Georges, who resigned from the Committee earlier this year. Senator Georges served on the Committee for over 7 years, being Vice-Chairman from 1980, while in Opposition, and Chairman from 1983. Senator Georges presented 61 reports to the Parliament on behalf of the Committee. The more notable of these included: Medical Fraud and Overservicing; HMAS Tobruk; Defence Project Management; Job Seeker-Computer Acquisition by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations; and Project DESINE-Computer acquisition by the Department of Defence.

I remind the Senate that Senator Georges, in his address of resignation, urged the Committee to continue to maintain its strong sense of identity and to ensure that the Committee's reputation and independence were carefully maintained. At the same time warned of petty restrictions being placed on work of the Committee by some officers of the Parliament. We are all aware, including the Government bureaucrats, that the Public Accounts Committee is the strongest and one of the most effective committees of the Parliament.

The Committee's new Chairman, replacing Senator Georges, is the honourable member for Hughes, Mr Robert Tickner, M.P. I know it is his intention, as Chairman, to devote considerable time and energy to the Committee as it pursues its important work on behalf of the Parliament as a whole.

On behalf of the Committee, I wish Mr Tickner well in his new role. As Deputy Chairman, I should also like to take this opportunity of thanking all the members of the Committee from both Houses and both sides of the Parliament who receive so little public recognition for their hard work which, at times, seriously impinges on their traditional electoral work. The work the Committee is allocated subject to confirmation by the full Committee to sub-committees. I wish to pay a special tribute to sectional committee chairladies-Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, Mrs Helen Mayer M.P. and Mrs Ros Kelly. I commend the report to honourable senators.