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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2214 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

the Auditor. If I have misunderstood what is happening there, I will find out about it in the detail stage, but it seems as though a compromise may be reached there.

Fourthly, the bill changes the employment arrangements of the Auditor-General, such that he or she will have only one term of seven years and will not be eligible for reappointment. That is to remove the possibility of an Auditor-General moderating his or her comments regarding government performance to protect his or her future employment. As we know from experience, the Auditor-General has a very important role in this Assembly and in the ACT community in promoting public accountability in the administration of the territory. It is very important that the Auditor not be unduly restricted, constrained or influenced in the performance of his or her functions by the government of the day. It seems that these amendments are reasonable enhancements of the existing act, with the qualifications that I have already spoken about.

MR KAINE (5.40): I will be quite brief. Quite frankly, Mr Speaker, with the amendments that Mr Osborne proposes to move to his own bill, I believe that what will be left is no matter for legislation. The things that are inherent in this bill are, in fact, what happens now. Why do we need to build that into concrete by making it law? I just think that the bill is unnecessary. As I have said before, often we pass legislation which does very little but constrain the way that people act. Once you set something in concrete, it is very hard to change it. I just do not see any good purpose being served by adopting the bill before me, particularly after three-quarters of it is being removed by the original author. I just do not see any merit in it. Unless Mr Osborne can convince me of the merit of his bill, I will be voting against it in principle.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services) (5.41): Mr Osborne brought forward the Auditor-General Amendment Bill at a time when the importance of the Auditor-General to the Assembly was being put up by some and in some ways challenged by others and there was, more important than anything, a thrust of argument that said that we had to make sure that the Auditor-General was even more powerful as he looked into complicated and difficult circumstances surrounding, in particular, the Bruce Stadium redevelopment and issues there.

Mr Osborne decided at that time, as I see it, that he would jump on the bandwagon and make an effort to strengthen the powers of the Auditor-General. My recollection is that he consulted a former Auditor-General from New South Wales, Mr Harris, in coming up with some of these ideas. The issues that are attractive to me are the ones about the appointment of an Auditor-General. I have come to a view about people who are in powerful positions that enable them to hold a democratically elected government to account. The Auditor-General does that in an important way. We see it with ICACs, we see it with the Criminal Justice Commission in Queensland, and we see it in a range of other places.

I have come to the view that these people should have a single term. The reason is to do with the fundamental importance of democracy. We have recognised the need to have an independent person looking at what governments are doing, in this case checking and double-checking financial issues, although the Auditor-General's powers seem to be going beyond financial issues to looking at some social and environmental issues and a range of other things. These appointments ought to be for a single term.

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