Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1934

Mr CADMAN —I present the 204th report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr CADMAN —The 204th Report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is an examination of the expenditure from the Advance to the Minister for Finance under the Appropriation Acts for 1981-82. The Advance to the Minister for Finance is a provision authorised by the annual Appropriation Acts and made available to the Minister. In 1981-82 amounts of $125m and $100m were provided for this purpose in Appropriation Acts Nos 1 and 2 respectively. The only amounts which should remain a charge to the appropriations for the Advance to the Minister for Finance at the end of the financial year are urgent and unforeseen expenditures which arise between the time of preparation of the additional Appropriation Bills Nos 3 and 4 and the close of the financial year. In its examination the Committee seeks to ascertain whether or not expenditure from the Advance has been confined to urgent and unforeseeable requirements for which provision could not have been made in the original or additional Estimates . The Committee has required departments to submit explanations for all items of expenditure. As from 1982-83 copies of all departmental applications for funds from the Advance which will remain a final charge to the Advance at 30 June are forwarded by the Department of Finance to the Committee as soon as possible after approval is granted. We expect to complete our examination of the use of the Advance in 1982-83 before the House rises.

For 1981-82 the Committee received 118 explanations for items included in the then Minister's statement in August 1982. Supplementary written information was obtained in respect of 11 items and one item only, 'Government Printer-Loss on Operations', was selected for public inquiry. The operations of the Government Printing Office are funded from the Government Printer Trust Account. The Committee found that: The financial statements on the Government Printer's operations are not required to be published and are not subject to Commonwealth audit; and a loss on operations of $312,989 was sustained because of a reduction in parliamentary work, industrial disputes, quotes for certain jobs at lower than established rates, three national wage decisions being given instead of two as expected and insufficient work being directed to the Government Printer.

The Committee also found that: The Government Printer experiences considerable difficulty in matching capacity with work loads; the Printing Office is unable to operate in the way a commercial printer would; and some accounts rendered by the Government Printer on client departments have remained unpaid for over 12 months. The Committee noted with concern that there were no formal written objectives for the Government Printing Office and that the charter of responsibilities being formulated over the last three years had not been completed. The Committee also found difficulties with financial management and accountability of the Government Printer's operations and aspects of its relations with client departments. The Committee responded by recommending that: First, the financial statements on the Government Printer's operations be made subject to Commonwealth audit as a matter of urgency-I note that the Auditor- General tabled a report on the Government Printing Office on 6 September this year; Secondly, a review of the financial management information systems be conducted urgently; thirdly, an urgent review be undertaken of the Government Printer's billing and accounts receivable systems; and, fourthly, the requirements departments must follow in procuring printing are to be stated in unequivocal terms. Inspection mechanisms should also be in place to ensure that the requirements are observed.

In connection with the relationship between the Government Printer and its clients, the Committee is extremely critical of delays in the payment of accounts by client departments, which contribute to the inefficiency of the Government Printer's operations. The Committee again reminds all departments of their obligations, as set out in finance regulations and directions, to pay accounts promptly. The Committee considers that in view of the important role played by the Government Printer in meeting the Parliament's printing requirements, it is imperative that the Government Printer's viability be assured. A permanent head is responsible for the efficient management of his department's resources and is therefore required to obtain the best value for money in meeting his printing requirements. The Committee supports the examination of the funding options which aim to enhance the competitiveness of the Government Printer and thereby attract the necessary fill-in, non- parliamentary work.

Following an examination of supplementary information the Committee is satisfied that in most cases the expenditure from the Advance to the Minister for Finance in 1981-82 was confined to urgent and unforeseeable requirements for which provision could not have been made in the Appropriation Acts. The Committee has also taken note of comments by the Auditor-General at paragraph 20 .2 of his May 1983 report. The Auditor-General points to the possibility that departments avoid recourse to the Advance by deferring payment of due amounts. The Committee would regard this action as totally unacceptable in that it could not only result in avoidance of proper parliamentary scrutiny but also is contrary to finance directions. It is imperative that the Commonwealth is seen to be a prompt payer of its bills. I commend the report to honourable members.