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Wednesday, 7 February 2001
Page: 24147


Mr CHARLES (7:44 PM) —I am delighted to take this opportunity to tell the parliament about a major national and international conference which took place in this Parliament House on Monday, on Monday night at Old Parliament House and again all day Tuesday. It was the sixth biennial conference of the Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees. I am not much on conferences and not overly rapt necessarily sometimes with committees, but may I say to you, Mr Speaker, that this was particularly enlightening. The Australasian Council of Public Accounts Committees is made up of PACs from the six states and the two territories, the Commonwealth, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. We also had in attendance at our conference auditors-general from all those jurisdictions and, in addition, parliamentary representatives and auditors-general from South Africa and Canada, and also the Auditor-General from Hong Kong.

The theme of the conference this year was the challenge to parliamentary accountability presented by the broad based movement towards devolved government. There is increasing respect accorded internationally for governments which display openness, probity, accountability and ethics in their financial dealings. It is recognised that these qualities are fostered by the parliamentary environment, particularly by means of the scrutiny and accountability mechanisms of parliaments. Given the present trend in Australia towards outsourcing various public sector activities and programs to the private sector, public accounts committees share concerns about privacy issues, risk management in a contestable environment, the retention of corporate memory in the public sector and contract negotiation and management.

Our procedures are either reasonably simple or complex. Each of the participants is invited to produce a paper, and some of the papers include both a public accounts committee paper and an auditor-general paper. They are spoken to very briefly, although produced in written form, and then we debate the papers and ask questions of those who wrote them, so there is full participation throughout the conference and participants are able to learn from each other about the important issues that we see surrounding the major issues of public accountability and dealing with fraud and corruption and all of these things that we know are wrong. The papers that comprised this year's biennial program were on accrual accounting; transparency, including commercial-in-confi-dence—that is a big issuedefining and measuring community service obligations; outsourcing risk, risk management in the new contestable environment; and ethical issues in moving from the public sector to the private sector. Then on Monday night Dick Humphry, Managing Director of the Australian Stock Exchange, addressed us at dinner at Old Parliament House and talked about the direction and future of Australian capital markets. We were delighted to receive his address, which was most enlightening. On Tuesday we continued with accountability versus efficiency, retention of corporate memory and skills in the Public Service, defining the public interest, impact of devolution, measuring performance and accrual accounting.

It all sounds pretty dry and perhaps not exciting stuff, but I can tell you that public accounts committees do much that is exciting and interesting. My role as chair of the federal Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit has put me to sea on a Collins class submarine, made me intimately aware of the operation of over-the-horizon radar and put me across the Top End for a whole week in an inquiry into Coastwatch. These are not uninteresting activities. So, Mr Speaker, we thank the Australian parliament and you for allowing us to participate here. (Time expired)