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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2172

Senator WATSON(3.08) —I present the 241st report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts on reports of the Auditor-General for 1983-84 and September 1984.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator WATSON —I seek leave to have a short statement on the report incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

Report 241 examines the reports of the Auditor-General-1983-84 and September 1984.

Honourable Senators will be aware that each year the Committee examines recently published reports of the Auditor-General. Following the tabling of the reports of the Auditor-General for the year ended 30 June 1984 and September 1984, the Committee sought written submissions from 12 Departments in respect of 20 items.

This report analyses the responses by departments and authorities to the Public Accounts Committee, explaining the criticisms raised by the Auditor-General in his Reports.

The Committee took public evidence on three items-the Property Directorate, the Financial Statements Outstanding and the Industrial Wages Payroll System, all of which are now administered by the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services.

Following its examination of information supplied by the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services, the Committee concluded that many questions continued to remain unanswered concerning the effectiveness of the Commonwealth's management of its extensive property holdings. The Committee is particularly concerned that, despite the creation of the Property Directorate, many of the problems identified in earlier reviews and audits still exist.

For this reason, the Committee has decided to examine further (outside the context of this report) the wider issue of management of the Commonwealth's property holdings.

The Committee is extremely concerned by the frequency with which deficiencies in the adminstration of student assistance programs by the Department of Education and Youth Affairs have been raised in the Auditor-General's Reports.

The Committee has previously recommended that departments operating major programs (ie those with a budget of at least ten million dollars and an expected life of at least five years) should ensure that specific legislation is drafted for these programs. Such legislation should be supported by regulations which describe, in detail, administrative arrangements. The magnitude of benefits paid, especially under the TEAS Scheme ($222 million in 1983) demands a high standard of accountability.

The Committee is of the view that, while the Department of Education and Youth Affairs has made many improvements, the situation remains unsatisfactory. State Offices are not in receipt of sufficient or timely information to ensure that all applicants are treated consistently (and hence equitably) and promptly.

The Committee is very concerned at the number of serious problems identified in the administration of the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme. It notes the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce's comment that many of these resulted from the short time provided for its implementation.

In view of the changes to the Scheme announced in the recent 1985-86 Budget (whereby currently eligible primary producers will receive a full rebate of the excise on diesel fuel from 1 November 1985) the Committee has sought assurances from the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce that adequate resources will be available to ensure the Scheme operates effectively and with proper accountability. The Minister has responded generally to the Committee's request for assurances.

The Committee is not satisfied with the Department's assertion that many of the weaknesses of the Scheme, especially those relating to self-assessment, derived from the Government's intention to set in place simple procedures. The Department was unable to provide documentary evidence of the previous or present Governments' expressed intention in this regard.

The Committee frequently observes schemes and programs with implementation problems like those experienced by the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme. Such schemes may well be eminently desirable and useful in their objectives. However, on occasions where they have been instituted with little or no preparatory investigation there are subsequent administrative problems. The programs may be capable of efficient and effective implementation provided sufficient attention is given to the development phase. The Committee urges that Departments and Ministers take great care to ensure that essential planning has been carried out before a new or revised program is announced and/or begins operation.

The Committee is extremely concerned at the poor performance of the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services in the preparation of the financial statements for which it is responsible.

Although a timetable for the Department to submit outstanding financial statements to Audit was agreed, the Committee notes that there has already been some slippage since its adoption although overall progress has been made in the preparation of more timely financial statements.

The Committee expects the Department to improve the timeliness and accuracy of its financial statements.

The Committee reviewed internal audit sections in three departments. While the Committee noted planned improvements, there are still problems with insufficient staff resources, and, in the Department of Health, differences of philosophy with the Australian Audit Office.

The frequency with which internal audit within departments attracts critical comment from the Auditor-General is unsatisfactory. The Committee has maintained a long standing interest in this matter and believes that development of efficient internal audit arrangements is a critical component of efficient public administration and accountability. For this reason, the Committee has decided to conduct a comprehensive review of Departmental internal audit practices.

There are many other issues covered in this Report which I have not raised here.

I commend this report to Honourable Senators.