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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 73

Senator SHERRY (2:30 PM) —My question is to Senator Minchin, the Minister for Finance and Administration. Is the minister aware that the annual report of the Natural Heritage Trust for 2002-03, which was tabled in parliament on Tuesday, contains an extraordinary 1½ pages of account corrections, totalling $58 million? I ask whether the minister for finance is aware that the note in the Auditor-General's certificate relating to this error states:

... there was a clear breach of section 48 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 ... the accounts and records were not kept in such a way as to ensure all appropriated moneys were recorded by the Department.

Is the minister aware that, whilst the net effect of this error was $58 million, the total amount incorrectly accounted for over a three-year period was $404 million? In light of this $400-plus million breach of Commonwealth law, what action has the minister taken with regard to the Natural Heritage Trust?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —That particular Auditor-General's report has not been drawn to my attention. But I will seek information on it and let Senator Sherry know what action is contemplated in response to it.

Senator SHERRY —A $400 million error has not been drawn to the attention of the minister! Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Isn't this the third major audit report in the last month containing scathing criticisms of government financial management, including report No. 15, which highlighted $47 billion in inappropriate expenditure by three departments? We have had the Department of Defence audited accounts qualified three years in a row, with $8 billion in unaccounted assets. Isn't the Auditor-General's highlighting of this financial mismanagement by the government of the Natural Heritage Trust—another $400 million—just another example of the Howard government's financial incompetence, presided over by you?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —The title of `King of Financial Incompetence' rests with the former Labor government, which presided over the most massive rort ever exploited upon the Australian people through the Centenary House lease, the report on which will be delivered this afternoon. The Australian people will realise what a scandal was overseen by the former Labor government for the benefit of the Labor Party—the greatest rent rort ever seen—and it has been this government's job to clean up that mess in the last eight years.