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Tuesday, 25 May 1993
Page: 1205

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (4.14 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I am not quite certain what I am more put out about—the contents of this report of the Copyright Agency Ltd or the manner of its presentation to the Senate. I would ask you, Mr Deputy President, to raise with the President the manner in which the Senate has been conned by the Government—I presume it is by the Government—in the Order of Business paper for today. It states that this report—which was signed on 14 October 1992—was presented to the former Attorney-General on 14 December 1992. However, the Notice Paper states that it was in fact submitted to the present Attorney-General (Mr Lavarch) on 20 May 1993, left his office on 24 May and is now being eventually tabled on 25 May 1993—that is, a report for the year to 30 June 1992.

  As you know, Mr Deputy President, it is arrant nonsense for the Government or anyone else to pretend that `the Minister' means anything other than the position of the Minister, not the particular person who may have happened to be the Minister at the time. This report was submitted to the former Minister in time for it to be presented to this chamber while we were sitting last year. That was not done. In other words, the requirements of speedy reporting were not broken by the Copyright Agency Ltd but by the Government itself—although why it took from the date of signature on 14 October 1992 until 14 December 1992 to get to the previous Minister is beyond me.

  Mr Deputy President, I would ask you to see whether the President does not consider it grossly misleading that in today's Order of Business the Government is trying to pretend that this was only received by the present Minister on 20 May. It does not matter who the Minister is. The Government sat on this report from 14 December until 24 May. This may have been done because the report itself is inadequate—I do not know—or it may simply be that there has been massive incompetence in the transfer of responsibilities from one Attorney-General to the next.

  The problems that I see with this Copyright Agency Ltd report—and I say in passing that I support the principle of this organisation—are in relation to the fact that this organisation is handling a very large amount of money indeed, and yet the audited reports relate not to the enormous amount of money being handled but simply to the corporate accounts, the accounts of the Copyright Agency Ltd, which handle this enormous amount of money.

  While it is true that some private sector auditors, chartered accountants called Camphin Boston, have audited the accounts of the Copyright Agency Ltd, which involve some millions of dollars—for example, something like $1.9 million in running costs, which seems to me to be an extraordinarily large amount in view of the sum actually handed out to authors—the real issue is what happens in the trust account, which deals with $17.8 million. It is not audited, there are no comparable figures for the previous year, and it does not meet the requirements of the Companies Act. It is not good enough.

  Apart from anything else, there is something like a 21 per cent operating cost to revenue, which clearly seems to me to be far too high. Funds of $9.4 million were received during the year and $6 million went out. However, there is to be a $9 million disbursement to authors this year. If we are to have this kind of reporting, can it please be more effective and more accurate with some comparable figures so that we can see what on earth is really happening. The audited accounts are next to meaningless—apart from being monumentally late, of course.

  This is one of the reasons why it seems to me that the Senate estimates process should cover all these sorts of bodies, even when there is no requirement for an appropriation of funds. Otherwise, all we will get by way of supervision of this kind of operation is five minutes allocated speaking time during the presentation of documents, such as we have had today.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Baume, I will pass your initial comments on to the President.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.