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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 60

Senator JOHNSTON (4:29 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, I present the 405th report of the committee entitled Annual report 2004-2005 ,and seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator JOHNSTON —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate my tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

Mr President, I am pleased to present the annual report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit. The annual report is an important accountability mechanism by which Parliament and, through it the public, can conveniently assess the Committee’s performance.

The duties of the JCPAA are described in the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act. In general terms, the duties are to:

  • examine the financial affairs of authorities of the Commonwealth, and examine all reports of the Auditor-General;
  • consider the operations and resources of the Audit Office;
  • approve or reject the Prime Minister’s recommendation for appointment of the Auditor-General and the Independent Auditor; and
  • increase parliamentary and public awareness of the financial and related operations of government.

During 2004-05, despite the hiatus in activity due to the Federal Election, the Committee has fulfilled each of these responsibilities.

Committee inquiries

Unlike other Committees, the JCPAA can initiate its own policy inquiries without permission or reference to any Minister, government or the Parliament. During 2004-05 the Committee has undertaken two major policy inquiries.

Report 403, Access of Indigenous Australians to Law and Justice Services, was tabled in June 2005. The inquiry was initiated in March 2004, to further examine some issues raised by an ANAO Audit Report. The inquiry lapsed at the end of the 40th Parliament, but in December 2004 the new Committee re-initiated the inquiry. The Committee received a number of submissions and exhibits, and held public hearings across Australia.

The Committee’s report included 17 recommendations aimed at ensuring that indigenous people have the best access to legal resources within available resources.

In May 2005 the Committee resolved to review developments in aviation security in Australia since the JCPAA’s Report 400: Aviation Security in Australia, which was tabled in June 2004.

The Committee decided to re-open the inquiry in the light of a number of disturbing incidents in Australian aviation security since June 2004.

At September 2005, the Committee had received 71 submissions and had undertaken a number of public hearings and inspections. The Committee received briefings from Sir John Wheeler on the outcomes of his inquiry into aviation security, and is looking to build on these with further recommendations. The Committee intends to report during 2006.

Examine Auditor-General’s reports

The Committee has been very busy during 2004-05 fulfilling its responsibility to review Auditor-General’s reports. Prior to the election, the previous Committee tabled Report 402, which reviewed six Auditor-General’s reports.

Following the election, the Committee resolved to complete a review of three Auditor-General’s reports that had been started in the previous Parliament. In addition, the Committee selected a further eight new Audit Reports for a detailed examination. The Committee recently tabled Report 404 which outlines the Committee’s findings on 11 Audit Reports, and makes 42 recommendations to improve agencies’ efficiency and effectiveness.

A theme emerging in these Audit Reports is the need for APS agencies to be aware of their responsibilities for accountability, value-for-money contract management, and compliance with legislative requirements for financial management. These are issues the Committee intends to continue looking at over the next 12 months.

Consider the operations and resources of the Audit Office

In May 2005, the Committee reviewed the ANAO draft budget estimates for 2005-06. In his report to the Parliament on budget day, the Chairman stated that the Committee was satisfied that the ANAO had sufficient budget allocation for 2005-06, however was concerned that the ANAO may have to curtail some of its discretionary activities in future years. The Committee will continue to seek advice from the ANAO on its budget position throughout the year.

Approve the appointment of the Auditor-General

The Auditor-General Act 1997 established the Auditor-General as an “independent officer of the Parliament” with a 10-year term, and stipulated that the Prime Minister, when nominating a new Auditor-General, must seek the JCPAA’s approval of the nomination prior to recommending an appointment to the Governor-General.

Mr Pat Barrett AO served as the Auditor-General from March 1995. Under the Act, his 10-year term expired in March 2005. On 1st March 2005 the Prime Minister wrote to the Committee, nominating Mr Ian McPhee as the new Auditor-General.

This was the first occasion since the introduction of the Auditor-General Act that the JCPAA had been involved in the selection of an Auditor-General.

The Committee considered the Prime Minister’s nomination, and unanimously agreed to endorse the nomination of Mr McPhee, a respected former Deputy Auditor-General.

The Committee would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Pat Barratt for his service to the Parliament as previous Auditor-General, and again welcome Mr McPhee to the position.

Increase Parliamentary and public awareness

The Committee, chairman, and the secretariat have met with a number of parliamentary delegations and other groups, to promote the work of the Committee and the importance of the financial and public accountability framework.

During 2005 there has been some media attention concerning the rate of Governments responses to Parliamentary Committee reports. I note that over the last two Parliaments, the Government has responded to nearly 90 per cent of the 209 recommendations made by the JCPAA.

Of the recommendations responded to, the Government has supported some 85 per cent either wholly or in principle.

Mr President, I commend the Committee’s annual report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.