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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 82

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) (3:03 PM) —I have further information in response to the question asked of me today by Senator Sherry in relation to the Auditor-General's report on the Natural Heritage Trust special account. I seek leave to incorporate the answer in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows—

The issue to which Senator Sherry refers is an old story, which was rectified over a year ago.

It was canvassed in the Auditor-General's report into Special Accounts in January of this year.

The Auditor pointed out that in previous years, the Department of Environment and Heritage had duplicated the appropriations into the Natural Heritage Trust Special Account, because they had assumed that annual appropriations were required to give effect to the credits made available to the Natural Heritage Trust.

In reality, the Telstra Sale Act also included a Special Appropriation which automatically credited amounts to the NHT Special Account.

This created a duplication of appropriation authority.

As a result an adjustment had to be made, and that adjustment was disclosed and fully explained in the 2002-03 annual report of the Department of Environment and Heritage.

The Auditor-General noted the correction in the context of the Department's 2002-03 annual report this time last year.

The discussion in this year's (2003-04) annual report for the Natural Heritage Trust is simply there to provide an accurate historical series in relation to the balances of the NHT Special Account had the duplication not occurred.

It is important to remember that these corrections deal with a technical reporting issue. They do not affect program expenditure under the Natural Heritage Trust, which has been administered in accordance with government policy.