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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2719

Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE(10.16) —Senator Georges, the Chairman of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, very graciously asked me to speak to this resolution from the House of Representatives as I happen to be the Chairman of the sectional Committee of the Joint Committee which would be undertaking this work. The Committee wants to make it known to the Parliament that it has accepted the reference from the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) with regard to a review of automatic data processing purchasing, and in doing so it does wish to make a couple of points that are quite important.

The Joint Committee of Public Accounts, as is understood, represents both Houses and the parties within the Parliament and it has an enviable reputation of efficiency and effectiveness, and it values that very highly. In undertaking this new role it does not wish in any way to jeopardise that reputation. What is envisaged is that the sectional Committee and the Joint Committee will undertake the reference and it will take, in its own way, steps that need to be taken. It would be envisaged that the Secretary of a department and the Minister concerned would agree to the proposal, and the Cabinet then would ask the Public Accounts Committee to comment on it. The Committee would examine the strategic plan and discuss it either with the Minister or the Secretary, and undertake its own investigations.

Of course it is understood that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts reports to the Parliament, but it would make recommendations to the Minister concerned and report to the Parliament from time to time. The Minister for Finance did ask the Committee to check that the proposals cover specific areas, such as Australian industry participation, employment issues, the effective use of public resources, and industrial relations. These areas would be considered as part of a check list that the Committee would pursue in looking at the items that had been referred to it. We considered that it was important that senior officers be involved in dealing with the Committee and in all cases that are referred to us the Committee will insist that the Secretary of the department or the head of the agency concerned appear before the Committee to explain why the project is essential and to discuss his own personal commitment to it. The Public Accounts Committee does not involve itself in policy decisions, but it will expect the chief of the organisation to know and to understand how this new system will work and how it will affect his Department.

What is of importance, I think, to the Parliament in recognising that this is a committee of the Parliament is that the resources of the Committee be adequate to deal with this new responsibility which has been accepted by it. At present the Joint Committee of Public Accounts has very few resources and it relies mainly, for this ADP proposal, on Mr Vincent Cleary from the Department of Administrative Services for advice. Mr Cleary is on a short secondment and is required to monitor the Department of Social Security project of Stratplan as well as to advise the Committee on the new procedures. It is planned to continue the seconding arrangement as the Committee sees benefit in ensuring that its main adviser is a working professional rather than a consultant. The main reason for this is that we need people with an intimate knowledge of strategic planning and the total purchasing and auditing cycle of the Public Service. However, the secondee will in future be supported by two qualified staff and he will be able to use one or two consultants. There will therefore be perhaps up to five professional staff which the Committee can call upon, as it is expected that only 4 or 5 proposals will need to be checked in any detail in each year. But this number could not be handled unless there were sufficient resources on the Committee staff to do so. If the Committee does not have the resources that it realises are absolutely essential it will advise the Cabinet that it cannot accept the reference given to it.

It is important to recognise the strenuous efforts that have been made by the Chairman of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, Senator Georges, to the appropriate persons with regard to the staffing structure of that Joint Committee and the support staff that it will need if it is to perform effectively the new role that has been given to it by the Minister for Finance. Perhaps I should say that something like $150m of ADP proposals are currently before the Government. I believe the Senate understands that for the Committee to make a positive recommendation on those proposals it would require talented staff, a lot of work by the parliamentary members of the Committee and the provision of sufficient information by the heads of departments and Ministers concerned.

In supporting the message that has been sent to us from the House of Representatives and in seeking the concurrence of the Senate to it, I draw attention to these matters that the Joint Committee felt ought to be placed before the Parliament at this time.

Question resolved in the affirmative.