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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2212 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

It is also proposed that there should be additional funding for the Auditor-General, proposed new section 22A. There is no reason why the government should provide greater budgetary flexibility to the Auditor-General than to any other budget-dependent entity. Under current processes, the Auditor can request additional funding through a Treasurer's Advance and, to my knowledge, that has never been refused when it has been sought. Certainly, it has not been refused by me. Alternatively, the Auditor can apply for a supplementary appropriation that would require Assembly scrutiny. I suspect that, if an auditor were knocked back by the government, that would be what would occur. Mr Speaker, I have doubts about that provision. I am happy to listen to debate about that, but I have serious doubts about whether that would be supportable.

A change in the term of appointment of the Auditor has been suggested. No evidence has been provided to demonstrate that the act's existing provisions have in any way reduced the impartiality of the Auditor, particularly to warrant the inflexibility inherent in the proposal. The current provisions of the act provide that the Auditor can be appointed for a period of between five and seven years, with eligibility for reappointment. I would argue that those provisions are better that those that have been put forward. The current provisions allow for the reappointment of an Auditor-General if that person is the most suitable and experienced potential candidate.

There are other things in the bill, but I do not think that I should go through them in detail. I think the government's position is fairly clear. Obviously, we are going to need to return, probably more than once, to the powers and role of the Auditor-General, which have been the subject of much debate in recent years, but I do not think that overall the direction of this bill is the way to achieve the desired improvement in the position of the Auditor-General.

MR QUINLAN (5.31): I have to say that, by the time we took out of this bill those things that we do not like, there would not be a whole lot left and that which would be left would be, effectively, a restatement of the conditions that prevail right now. I think the government has stated that it would support proposed new section 17 (5). I may as well give notice here that we will not. This provision relates to the tabling of reports out of session. In much earlier days, I spoke to the Auditor-General about this proposition and, in fact, had some legislation drafted; but, after consultation with the Clerk, I was talked out of pursuing that proposition, not so much because there is a clear picture as to what would follow, but because the picture in relation to privilege and the attaching of privilege has never been tested, as I understand it.

This type of provision exists elsewhere. I understand that it exists in the federal Senate. Nevertheless, I was not willing to push forward with it because of concern about not only the immediate attaching of privilege, but also the secondary flow on to other users of privilege. I am happy to be convinced otherwise tonight that we are sure and certain, should we have these provisions in place, the particular act is then, effectively, black and white, but I have been advised otherwise and I would lean towards the sounder approach of not allowing a situation where a third party, effectively, could inadvertently breach parliamentary privilege without knowing it, or would lose an action brought against them because they had sought to use privilege under this particular act and that privilege did not stand up to testing.

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