Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (7 August) . . Page.. 2455..
Questions without notice
Auditor-General-misleading by public servants
MR STANHOPE: My question is to the Chief Minister. In an interview on ABC Radio on 12 July the Chief Minister conceded that the head of his department had been wrong in informing the Auditor-General that a review had been undertaken into the possibility that senior public servants had acted outside the law in relation to the Bruce Stadium redevelopment. The Chief Minister said that Mr Tonkin had misled the Auditor. A review had not been undertaken, a fact confirmed in correspondence between Mr Tonkin and his predecessor, Mr Gilmour, who had told the Auditor of the review in August 1999. The Chief Minister said that Mr Tonkin had written to the Auditor to express his regret at misleading him in his original response to the Bruce Stadium audit in July 2000.
Can the Chief Minister say why it took almost two years for the most senior officers in his department to realise that no review had been undertaken and to correct the misleading information given to the Auditor? Does he agree that the misleading of the Auditor is a most serious matter?
MR HUMPHRIES: I thank Mr Stanhope for that question. Yes, Mr Tonkin did completely mislead the Auditor. I make no secret about that. I do not pretend to disguise that or cover it up. It was the case. I am satisfied from my discussions with him that the misleading was inadvertent. It was based on an assumption in documentation that was before him. I believe that the appropriate course of action in those circumstances has been followed; namely, that Mr Tonkin has expressed his regret for that to the Auditor and to me. He indicates that he believes it is unlikely to recur.
I would like to think we had public servants and, indeed, members of this place who were incapable of making mistakes, but regrettably that is not the case. In the circumstances, what is necessary is procedures to prevent such mistakes being made. If they are made because of inadequate procedures, then steps are taken to ensure they are not made again in the same way by an improvement of procedures being put in place, and a preparedness to acknowledge mistakes promptly when they are made.
Mr Stanhope describes the period between the review having supposedly been done and being acknowledged as not having been done as two years. That is an exaggeration, of course, because it was not in issue for all that time that there was a review that had not been done. It was not put in that way for that period of time. Certainly, the fact that a former head of the Chief Minister's Department had gone to the United Kingdom and the review that it had been assumed he had done had not been done not being discoverable until some time afterwards was a matter of concern. But, Mr Speaker, I am satisfied, as I have said, that the issue was one which was a genuine mistake on the part of Mr Tonkin. The issues which were to have been the subject of the review in any case were covered comprehensively by the Auditor-General.
I do not believe any harm has been done by virtue of that mistake having been made in terms of the advice given to the Auditor-General. As I say, I regret that it happened, but I do not believe that it is likely to recur.