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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7902


Senator CONROY (2:38 PM) —My question is to Senator Minchin, the Minister for Finance and Administration. Given the minister's claim that this government has `revolutionised the transparency of the budget', how does the minister explain why the government has not published details of the consolidated revenue fund, which is enshrined in the Constitution as the fund through which all Commonwealth moneys are received and paid, in the budget papers since the new financial framework was implemented in the 1999-2000 budget? Minister, doesn't the absence of the consolidated revenue fund mean that it is impossible for parliament and taxpayers to determine the true financial position of the Commonwealth?


Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —Regrettably, it is the case that Senator Conroy simply does not understand how to read the budget papers. There is such a welter of information in current Commonwealth government budget information as to stagger most financial journalists. If anything, they are complaining about the amount of information that we now provide in the budget about the state of the Commonwealth's financial affairs, which is recorded in both accrual terms and cash terms. We now have a very detailed mid-year economic statement, we have the consolidated financial statement at the end of the year and we have monthly financial statements. As I said yesterday, Australia is held up to the world as an example of what is a very good, proper, accountable and transparent public release of Commonwealth government statistics. The international organisations point to Australia as the example to follow when it comes to the revelation of Commonwealth government statistics. This is a furphy about the consolidated revenue fund. Technically that is the mechanism through which all the money passes.

Opposition senator interjecting


Senator MINCHIN —Yes, it is in the Constitution and technically the money does pass through there. But it is obviously a notional account and there is any amount of information in the budget about what happens to Commonwealth moneys in and out. As I said, the world is claiming Australia to be the leading nation when it comes to governments revealing to the public, the opposition and the community the full extent of the financial affairs of the nation. That is why accrual accounting is just so important: it gives you a much better guide to the impact of the Commonwealth, the biggest financial entity in the nation, upon the total economy. Every financial journalist acknowledges that. Yes, they think we could do this, that or the other in modifying or improving the way we reveal the accounts, but most of the criticism that comes to us is a result of the welter of information that we provide, which regrettably people like Senator Conroy and others simply cannot get their heads around or do not understand.

I imagine over time they will eventually understand it. We have offered any amount of guidance to Senator Conroy to help him in a factual way and to take him through all the information that we now provide to the opposition to enable them to have a very close examination of the Commonwealth's financial affairs. On a regular basis we invite him to receive those sorts of briefings. I really am concerned to ensure that Senator Conroy overcomes the ignorance that he has. One day in the long distant future he may well be a minister for finance in a Commonwealth government, and I very much hope that if that day ever comes he really does understand what he is talking about. If there is any advice he would like to get, we will be happy to help.


Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you claimed today and you claimed in your answer to a question on 2 December:

Under our government, the budget is as strong and as transparent as any budget in the Western world.

If this is true, can you explain why you abolished the legal requirement that the budget outcome be subject to independent audit by the Auditor-General?


Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —This is a lovely confirmation of the ignorance of Senator Conroy, which I just described. The fact is that the Deputy Auditor-General has confirmed in writing that the ANAO has never audited the final budget outcome. I will supply a letter to that effect later.


Senator Conroy —That is not what I asked.


Senator MINCHIN —That is what you asked. You are completely confused. The consolidated financial statements are fully audited by the Auditor-General but the final budget outcome, which was the subject of the allegations made by Senator Conroy in estimates, has never been audited. It is the consolidated financial statements which are audited by the Auditor-General.