Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2211..
Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2000
Debate resumed from 29 November 2000, on motion by Mr Osborne:
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR HUMPHRIES (Chief Minister, Minister for Community Affairs and Treasurer) (5.25): Mr Speaker, the government has concerns with elements of this bill, but believes that there are also elements of this bill which may be supported. Acceptance of Mr Osborne's amendments would change quite substantially the functions of the Auditor-General, the powers of the Auditor-General, the penalties which can be imposed by the Auditor-General and a number of other aspects of the way in which the Auditor-General conducts his task. Broadly speaking, the government's view is that much of what is provided for in this bill goes a considerable way towards changing the understanding that the community and, I think, the Assembly have of the role which the Auditor-General plays.
There are a number of things about the bill which the government does not support and others which the government does support. I want to indicate that the government believes that proposed new section 17 (5) of the act with respect to the publication and circulation of the Auditor-General's reports when the Assembly is not sitting is a supportable provision. If this amendment were in place, a report of the Auditor-General would continue to attract absolute privilege under the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 of the Commonwealth.
As I have indicated, there are other provisions that the government does not support. I will just run through them briefly. It is proposed that the Auditor-General should have the power to determine the breadth of his own inquiry. That comes under proposed new section 17 (1). The Auditor-General already has broad powers under sections 10 and 12 of the Auditor-General Act 1996 to determine which sorts of inquiries he or she should conduct. The Auditor has the power to review or examine "any aspect of the operations of a person, body or thing" in the course of a performance audit. To expand those powers would be to take the Auditor's powers beyond those of other governments in Australia, other acts for auditors in Australia, and I do not believe that that is warranted in the present circumstances.
It is also proposed in the bill that there should be a capacity to refer all reports of the Auditor-General to the public accounts committee. I refer to proposed new sections 17 (4) (c) and 18. I do not think that there is justification for mandating legislatively the referral of all reports to the public accounts committee and binding future Assemblies to only one course of action. The current practice for the referral of the Auditor-General's reports and a more appropriate way to address the referral of the Auditor-General's reports to the public accounts committee is through the standing orders of the Legislative Assembly, particularly under section 21 of the self-government act. It is not necessary to amend the act to require the Auditor to appear as a witness before the public accounts committee to discuss each report, as this amendment foreshadows. The committee already has the discretion to decide when it wishes to call witnesses under the standing orders. I think it is inappropriate and unnecessarily inflexible for the committee to have this discretion removed, which is what the effect of the amendment would be.