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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1816

Senator COATES —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Finance a question about the Auditor-General. When in opposition, the coalition constantly argued for the Auditor-General to be made a so-called officer of the parliament. Now that the coalition is in government, does it intend to implement its longstanding policy? If so, when will the government take action to make this happen? What difference will it make to the audit office? Can the minister say exactly how this change would be made?

Senator SHORT —Senator Coates raises what has been regarded here in the Senate and in the parliament generally as a very important issue for a long time. A lot of work has been done on it, particularly through the Public Accounts Committee. I know that Senator Coates and others—my colleague Senator Gibson in particular—have been following this matter very closely for many years.

The question of future arrangements in relation to the Auditor-General, the potential legislative implementation of the recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee on the status of the Auditor-General and a range of other issues associated with the audit office are under active consideration. I expect that decisions on those matters will be announced in the near future.

Senator COATES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I get the impression from Senator Short that he does not actually know the answer to the question, but could he at least say whether it is still the policy of the coalition. Is the minister admitting that his party's policy is really a lot of rhetoric and that the government is just accepting the status quo and rejecting the idea altogether? Does the minister have any idea of what he and his colleagues meant by the term `officer of the parliament'?

Senator SHORT —As I said to Senator Coates, decisions on this will be announced in the near future. I must say that the question comes pretty oddly from a party that had years to do something about it. You looked at this matter for years and you had neither the ability nor the wit to take the action that you are now asking us to take and on which, as I say, we will announce our decision. You were here for 13 years. You looked at all these things. You did not do a cracker to change the situation. I have to say that a question like that comes very oddly from your side of the Senate.