Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 2104..
Document incorporated by the Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs
Mr Speaker, I am pleased to introduce the Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2004.
Since coming into effect in 1996, the Auditor-General Act has provided a sound basis for the effective performance of the Auditor-General's functions. Nevertheless, the former Auditor-General, Mr John Parkinson, considered that, over time, experience had shown that some areas of the Act warranted clarification and strengthening.
Consistent with the Government's policy for open and accountable governance, the legislation has been reviewed and a number of changes have been identified to clarify and strengthen the Act. The Bill I table today gives effect to those changes. For the benefit of Members, I will briefly discuss some of the proposed amendments.
The current Act can be interpreted in such a way that individual agencies, rather than activities, must be the subjects of performance audits. This interpretation would mean that an audit of compliance with, for example, Freedom of Information laws would require separate audits of the activities of each agency. The Bill clarifies that the Auditor-General may conduct a single performance audit covering activities common to more than one agency.
A new section has been added to give the Auditor-General power to require a person to answer questions on oath or affirmation and to allow the Auditor-General to administer an oath or affirmation. Inclusion of this section is consistent with the powers of the Commonwealth Auditor-General and most state Auditors-General. The former Auditor-General considered that inclusion of such a provision would enable audits to be conducted more efficiently.
A new section has also been added for the protection of information provided by witnesses so that, other than for an offence against the Act or relevant parts of the criminal code, any information or document obtained will not be admissible in evidence against the person.
The Bill includes a requirement that the Auditor-General be given 'reasonable help' when on premises occupied by the Territory or a Territory entity in the performance of a function under the Act, with appropriate offences for failure to comply with this requirement.
It is also proposed to clarify in the Act that all agencies are required to pay fees for audits of their financial statements. The current section does not cover all entities whose financial statements are audited by the Audit Office.
The Bill also addresses current omissions in controls relating to the reporting of sensitive information. In particular, in addition to the current requirements, a report to the Assembly must now not include information if the disclosure of the information could be an unreasonable disclosure of personal information, or could disclose information having a commercial value. The inclusion of these grounds is consistent with other ACT legislation.