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Wednesday, 7 June 1989
Page: 3523

Senator WATSON(12.11) —Senator Button knows that, given a challenge, particularly issued by him, I will always respond. So I thank him for offering me this invitation. What we are talking about is a loss of parliamentary control-a loss of linkage with this Parliament through the Auditor-General. Over the years, particularly those in which this Government has been in office, there has been a growth in the Executive branch of government. That growth has been associated with a decline in the power of the Parliament. I remind the Minister that report No. 296 on the reform of the Australian Audit Office has been recognised throughout Australia. The Auditor-General-the ally of the people and the Parliament-has been widely acknowledged. In fact, the major provisions of the report have been endorsed by the Liberal-National Party coalition.

I also remind Senator Button that this report was compiled by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, of which the Australian Labor Party has a majority membership. It is a significant majority. All members of the Committee, many of whom are high-ranking members of the Labor Party, overwhelmingly endorsed that report. They were concerned about this lack of control, this lack of parliamentary linkage. They were concerned about the Government's denial of adequate resources to its own Auditor-General or, should I say, the Auditor-General of this Parliament. One of the features of the recommendations was a separation to ensure the independence of the Auditor-General from the Executive branch of government.

What Senator Button is asking us to do today is the worst of both worlds. A statutory corporation, in order to get further and further away from its linkage with Parliament, is to set up its own company. But the Government is trying to remove the linkage with the Auditor-General. It believes that because there is a 30 per cent public interest the body would not be under the scrutiny of the Australian Audit Office, despite the fact that the Commonwealth will own 70 per cent. If the Government is so concerned about competitiveness and all that business, we say: privatise the organisation and we will support it; privatise it and allow the private sector auditors to compete. However, if one dollar of public money is involved, this Parliament and the Auditor-General will have a direct interest. Therefore, the amendment must be supported.