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Tuesday, 31 August 1993
Page: 663

Senator MICHAEL BAUME (4.00 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

It was important that this report be tabled today, and that is one of the reasons the opposition opposed the adjournment motion. The Attorney-General's Department has advised that this report contains material which could be regarded as defamatory and potentially defamatory. The officers concerned were shown the contents of the draft report where it referred to them and were invited to provide oral or written comment. The comments submitted have been taken into account in the report as considered appropriate.

  This report of the Auditor-General deals with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and its review of travel irregularities. The report provides the parliament with the results of an audit office examination of travel irregularities alleged in relation to senior executives of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. The examination was carried out in response to a request from the Minister for Resources (Mr Lee) dated 19 March 1993 after an AQIS internal management review was leaked to the press in late February 1993 and tabled in the Queensland parliament on 3 March 1993. I gather that some of my National Party colleagues may have some knowledge of this matter and have been assiduous in pursuing it.

  The travel irregularities had previously been investigated by a departmental officer, who had concluded that no misconduct was involved, but the minister was concerned that unless an arm's length investigation was carried out allegations against officers would continue to be made. This report is a result of that investigation.

  I do not want to deal in substance with the many matters raised. Some of them are quite insubstantial in terms of money amounts and in any event there will be plenty of opportunity in Estimates Committee A to deal at length with the matter of primary industry expenditure. I imagine this matter will be taken up there. What I do want to put on the record in the Senate itself are a couple of general matters raised in the letter from the Auditor-General, Mr Taylor, to Mr Crean, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, dated 29 August 1993 and which appears as an attachment to this report. In it the Auditor-General says:

The most important lesson arising from this audit concerns the ethical underpinning associated with the management of travel and related expenses. Senior executives are responsible for setting a good example within their organisations and to the public. This report shows there can be no presumption or assurance as to the economy and probity of travel and related expenditures while the approving officers do not themselves set and observe high standards. The ANAO considers that where officer payments and entitlements are concerned, the test of probity and propriety must predominate. The decisions and actions of officers in relation to this type of expenditure must be able to withstand full public scrutiny irrespective of the dollar value.

I think that is the key point. I do not think anyone will go over the edge about the size of the matters here, but it is the question of the principles involved. The letter goes on:

Some 330 individual matters were examined in the course of the review. The key findings are:

.thirty-nine percent were found to have no substance

.forty-seven percent were breaches of regulations which indicated inadequacies in management practices

.thirteen percent were breaches of regulations which warranted recovery action to the net value of $2000, and

.three instances may have involved misconduct in the terms of the Public Service Act 1922.

The ANAO does not support the findings of the DPIE Authorised Officer that no misconduct had occurred in any of the cases examined.

That is a serious point. It is unfortunate that the authorised officer of the department had said that no misconduct had occurred. The audit office does not support that conclusion from the cases examined. It goes on:

As the report shows, however, the Attorney-General's Department has advised that it considers it `improbable' that a court would agree to open the way for any action in these cases.

The ANAO concluded that:

.senior management of AQIS did not have systems and procedures in place for the management of risk in relation to travel; such systems should have provided the checks and balances necessary to prevent the matters disclosed by the Review Report from occurring

.rules were not always appropriate in the circumstances

.delegates authorised to approve travel often did not themselves set and observe high standards, and

.there were no procedures for risk-based post-action review of travel and related activity.

That is in the letter from Mr Taylor to the minister.

  My final point is that the department has agreed with all but one of the recommendations, has recovered the moneys owing to it and has rewritten its secretary's instructions. This demonstrates once again the vital role played by the Auditor-General in the proceedings of this parliament and in the proper supervision of the expenditure of taxpayers' money. How unfortunate it is that this government is continuing to deprive the Auditor-General of the appropriate resources to ensure that taxpayers' money is saved.

  As a result of this government's activity, the Auditor-General has, as I understand it, announced that 100 of his employees are to be removed from his employment in one way or another because resources are inadequate. That seems to me to be an extraordinary decision by the government. I commend the Auditor-General's report and I hope that, despite the reduction in his resources and the failure of the government to respond to repeated requests and recommendations from committees of this parliament, the Auditor-General will be able to continue the outstanding work he is doing.