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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 613


Senator PETER RAE(10.56) —I shall not be long in referring to the delayed annual report of the Australian Capital Territory Gaming and Liquor Authority which was presented to Parliament today. It is the Authority's third annual report, for the year 1983-84, which is presented to the Parliament almost 15 months after the close of the year for which it is reporting. It is not just the fact that it is delayed that concerns me; it is also the fact that no one on the Government side appears to be interested in the qualifications which the Auditor-General has made about the unlawful investment of $4m. Does that not matter to this Government? Apparently not. We have not heard any explanation of any action being taken or any new procedures being implemented. The report states:

Investments in Bank Accepted Bills of Exchange to the value of $4,087,959 have been made by the Authority in contravention of Section 25 of the Betting (Totalisator Agency) Ordinance 1964---

If that were done in the private sector, the persons concerned would be prosecuted and would face a severe penalty for having breached the laws relating to the trust placed in people who are directors of corporate bodies. Here we have a statutory corporation which apparently can breach the law with impunity. Not only has the Authority got into strife with its TAB operations, but also in relation to its poker machine operations-the other half of its function-there is a separate report by the Auditor-General which states:

The Authority invested moneys standing to the credit of the Trust Account established pursuant to section 42 of the Poker Machine Control Ordinance 1975 during the year. As the Ordinance does not provide for the investment of these moneys the Authority was requested to obtain a legal opinion on the subject. The Authority was of the opinion that as the Ordinance was silent with regard to the investment of these funds it did not specifically prohibit the Authority from investing them. Oral advice from the Department and the Authority is that it is proposed to proceed with draft amendments which if adopted will authorise the Authority to invest moneys held under section 42 of the Ordinance. Audit-

that is, the Auditor-General-

is of the view that unless the amendment can be effected quickly, and this seems unlikely, a legal opinion should be sought forthwith.

In other words, the Auditor-General believes that there is a very real ground for believing that the investment is unlawful. Again, what has happened? The report was introduced with no explanation from the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes); there was no statement that action will be taken as a result of the Auditor-General's report; no statement by the Australian Capital Territory Gaming and Liquor Authority-this qango-that it will do anything. Does reporting to this Parliament-accountability-mean nothing at all to Ministers and authorities? Do they think that they can just table with impunity reports which show that they have breached the law, or have probably breached the law, and that they have failed to take the action recommended by the Auditor-General's Office? Are we going to accept this sort of report and let it pass without comment? I believe that the Senate would be recreant in its duty if it did not say: `This is not good enough. This requires an explanation from the Government, an explanation from the Authority and a positive plan of action to correct that which is wrong.' If actions which are unlawful have been undertaken, they should be treated as they would be in the private sector under the Companies Act and prosecutions should be undertaken if necessary. The people should be replaced if they are not prepared to act and act quickly to correct whatever has been found to be wrong and make sure that it does not happen again.

I think of the absolute arrogance of those who are involved in the administration of the Belconnen Mall, with their thumbing of the nose attitude in relation to the administration of that fairly major statutory authority. They were found to have continually thumbed their noses at the audit department, at the departments responsible for overseeing them and at parliamentary committees; yet they were then reappointed to their positions. I find it absolutely and utterly amazing that that could happen in a country where there is supposed to be accountability and a checks and balances system, ensuring that public money is dealt with as trust money and that people act in a position of trust with the sort of responsibility that that involves.

Mr President, I am glad that you were able to be here tonight because I know of the interest that you have taken in matters such as this in the past. I wanted to express my concern that a report such as this should be presented to this chamber without anybody in government apparently taking any action or even thinking that it was necessary to make any explanation at all. I do not propose to leave the matter where it is. I have raised it and I shall now keep an eye on what happens in relation to it. I thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity to speak tonight and to indicate that this situation is not good enough.