Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 10 Hansard (24 August) . . Page.. 4011..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
still be debating the effectiveness of annual reports and what can be done to make them better.
The Auditor-General made 38 suggestions. To its credit, the government has accepted most of them. The government has taken on board some, with 29 being either agreed to or agreed to in principle, and disagreed with nine as it felt that the Auditor-General did not quite get it right. The committee, in looking through the suggestions, has backed the government on some of them. We have agreed with the government on six of the recommendations that the government felt should not be agreed to, but have supported the Auditor-General on three of her recommendations as we think that they are reasonably important. So, well done, Treasurer!
The first of those three recommendations relates to who should be responsible for approving the annual reports directions and the second to quality assurance. The third recommendation asks the government to reconsider suggestions 3 and 13. Working through the suggestions, the approach of the auditor in this regard is interesting in that, instead of making recommendations, she has in this case made suggestions.
The first one that the government disagrees with is suggestion 1, whereby the auditor suggested that the Assembly give consideration to removing any ambiguity that exists between a number of acts. The government did not agree with that. The committee accepts, however, that there are ambiguities between the relevant acts and recommends that the government undertake a review of these acts to ensure that they are consistent in their application.
The next suggestion that the government disagreed with was suggestion 3. The auditor suggested that the act be amended to cover whole-of-government reporting. The government disagreed, saying that assessment of the strategic direction of governments is more appropriately addressed as part of the election cycle. The committee believes that there is some merit in what the auditor was suggesting.
In suggestion 5 the auditor suggested that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts have responsibility for approving the annual report directions. The government, oddly enough, disagreed. The committee agrees with the government at this time. It has certainly been the case over the years that suggestions have been made by various committees-not just the public accounts committee but also annual reports committees-that have not been acted upon by this government and, I suspect, previous governments as well. In recommendation 1 the committee suggested that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts of the Sixth Assembly keep a watching brief on this issue and that, if the annual reports do not improve, it might be worth making the PAC the approving body.
The next suggestion was suggestion 13. The auditor suggested that agencies be required to subject their annual reports to systematic assurance prior to their being published. The problem is that the annual reports all have to be tabled by the end of September and, given the tight timeframe, to add another layer to the process would, we believe, be inappropriate. In this case the committee sympathised with the Auditor-General's concerns but backed the government. It suggested instead that, rather than just not doing anything, the government might initiate a trial of independent quality assurance of annual reports prior to their publication. So they might check one or two of the reports to see