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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 125

Senator WATSON (4:20 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, I wish to present an oral report on the nomination of a new Commonwealth Auditor-General, pursuant to subsection 8A(7) of the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951. Under Section 8A of the Public Accounts and Audit Committee Act 1951, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit has a responsibility to approve or reject a proposed recommendation by the Prime Minister for the appointment to the office of Auditor-General. This is the first occasion on which the committee has exercised this important statutory obligation, it having been enacted during the tenure of the retiring Auditor-General, Mr Pat Barrett.

The Auditor-General is an independent officer of the parliament, and so it is both appropriate and important that the committee has the powers to scrutinise and, if it deems necessary, reject a nomination to this position. I am pleased to rise on this occasion to indicate to the Senate the committee’s unanimous approval of the appointment of Mr Ian McPhee as Auditor-General. The appointment has been approved this morning by the Executive Council.

Mr McPhee is a dedicated and highly competent person who brings a wealth of experience to the position. He was formerly a long-serving employee of the Australian National Audit Office, gaining experience at the highest levels of the organisation as Deputy Auditor-General from 1998 to 2003. He left the Audit Office to become a deputy secretary in the Department of Finance and Administration.

Mr McPhee expressed to the committee his view of the positive role of the Audit Office as a value adder. He recognises that the most effective way of achieving outcomes is through the provision of advice in a cooperative rather than an oppositional spirit. Auditors are not an enemy whose role it is to obstruct government agencies and departments. It is not the role of the Auditor-General and his staff merely to scrutinise and criticise government agencies for inefficiencies, but also to educate through the publication of better practice guides and other measures. However, the primary responsibility of the Audit Office is to ensure that government agencies and departments operate efficiently and effectively while meeting all the compliance standards that are required of publicly funded agencies. In this the Auditor-General and his staff must cooperate and operate without fear or favour, and Mr McPhee’s record is testament to his abilities in this regard.

The committee and the Audit Office are complementary instruments through which procedures in the expenditure of public funds are scrutinised and held accountable. Each organisation works best when they enjoy a close working relationship. We as a committee look forward to reinforcing and building upon the already strong lines of communication between the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, and the Audit Office during Mr McPhee’s stewardship. On behalf of the committee, I congratulate Mr McPhee on his appointment and express our complete confidence in his abilities to ensure that the Australian public gets value for its money.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the achievements of the outgoing Auditor-General, Mr Pat Barrett AO, who has served as Commonwealth Auditor-General since May 1995. He could be said to have been the first truly independent Auditor-General. It was during Mr Barrett’s tenure that the Auditor-General Act 1997 was enacted following a 1996 report by the committee, marking a new era for the Australian National Audit Office. The act established the Auditor-General as an independent officer of the parliament, gave him much more autonomy over the budget of the Australian National Audit Office and gave him a mandate to audit all Commonwealth entities.

During Mr Barrett’s time the Audit Office has proven to be a vital instrument through which government agencies and departments have been accountable to the parliament. I wish him well for the future and I again congratulate Mr McPhee on his appointment to this important office. I have been asked by Democrats Senator Andrew Murray to state that he joins me in these comments. I thank the Senate.