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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 2028

Senator SHORT (5.11 p.m.) —I would like to say a few words about the Auditor-General's Report No. 41 of 1993-94: project audit: the Australian government credit card: some aspects of its use. Much of what I want to say has already been covered by my colleagues but it is worth making the point again that this is not the first time that concern about the use of the Australian government credit card has been brought to the attention of this parliament.

  It is only six months since the Auditor-General's report No. 21 was tabled and debated in this parliament. That report raised a number of points about the use of the government credit card. One was that, while the credit card was originally intended to be used to pay for minor claims, typically under $1,000, out of the $418 million expended by use of the card in the financial year 1992-93, the audit office estimated that 68 per cent, or $283 million, involved transactions in excess of $1,000.

  Report No. 21 also found that there were many instances where one Commonwealth agency paid another by credit card, thereby incurring a fee for what should have been a simple funds transfer. It found that departments were unable to identify the use to which the credit card was put or the advantages or disadvantages that accrued from different patterns of usage. That report also said that departmental management could not monitor expenditure trends associated with card usage or payment mode.

  The report identified purchases of capital items such as speedboats and ancillary parts for missile launchers using the credit card when, as it had pointed out, the card was intended for low risk purposes and did not provide the controls for accountability needed for large purposes. In fact, when that report was tabled last year I had particular amusement in drawing attention to the fact that in 1992-93 $893,000 was spent using the credit card on bomb suits and accessories.

  Report No. 21 found that the credit card is not widely used across the Commonwealth. It found that nine per cent of credit cardholders accounted for 77 per cent of expenditure; that three agencies accounted for 63 per cent of card transactions; and that one department was responsible for 62 per cent of credit card expenditure. Surprisingly, last September the audit office supported the continued appropriate use of the credit card, despite the fact that it also concluded that many of the benefits that it was claimed would flow from the use of the card did not eventuate.

  That report received a lot of publicity and was the subject of much debate here. I would have thought that careful account would have been taken of it by the departments and agencies concerned in the intervening period. However, this follow-up report tabled today shows quite clearly that this review has confirmed the findings of the Auditor-General in report No. 21 that the `audit trail was weak'.

  As indicated by the examples cited by my colleagues, this report identifies numerous cases of concern which suggest that no cognisance was taken of the earlier report. In report No. 41 the audit office found: that in a number of transactions the card was used for non-official purposes; that there was evidence of lack of proper approval for purchases; that the card had been used outside guidelines; that DAS common use contracts had not been used; and that sales tax exemption had not been sought.

  Without going into all the details, the important thing is that the Auditor-General has again drawn our attention to this matter. It is of great concern that nothing seems to have been done in the period since the last report. I am concerned, as I am sure the Senate is, about the government's apparent lack of action in this area. This is a matter of public accountability and of demonstrating integrity in the use of taxpayers' money and in accounting for it. If taxpayers and the community at large cannot feel confident in its government and its agencies acting responsibly in the use of public funds, that is a matter of considerable concern. I congratulate the Auditor-General for again bringing this matter to our attention.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.