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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (26 September) . . Page.. 3363 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

continuity of relevant information and so enable an assessment to be made of performance within and between budgets. That proposal seems to be a satisfactory way to go about it.

Clauses 18 and 19 relate to payments from territory bank accounts. A significant proposal is to remove the requirements for payments to be made only after a warrant has been prepared. It is essential to ensure compliance with appropriations and other measures of financial and related accountability to achieve appropriate controls over financial management activities dealing with public funds.

It is interesting to note the comment in the explanatory memorandum that warrants are largely a ceremonial process and that the use of warrants has led to inconsistencies. According to the Treasurer, a number of states and the Northern Territory have already removed the need for warrants and this bill provides for payments to be made only under appropriation. We are prepared to support this amendment, although we will monitor its application carefully to ensure that the public funds and the processes associated with applying the public funds are utilised appropriately at all times.

Clause 17 deals with departmental cash surpluses. The bill proposes that the executive be given the authority to determine that funds in departmental bank accounts are surplus and that such funds can be transferred to the relevant territory bank account. In principle, it seems to be an appropriate measure, as it should enhance the overall management of the ACT's finances. At the same time, however, we do note that some decisions to identify and transfer surplus funds may not be reasonable, at least from the point of view of the agency that is losing the funds. We will monitor the application of this provision and, in the event that any problems arise with the executive's use of the provision, we will consider moving an amendment to the act making these decisions a notifiable instrument, thus enabling such decisions to be scrutinised more closely by the Assembly.

Clause 6 relates to Commonwealth grants. The Estimates Committee report of 2002-note that this is contrary to the Treasurer's inaccurate correction in his tabling speech that this date should be 2001 as it was a report on Appropriation Bill (No 3)-recommended action in relation to the use of the phrase "special purpose grants". This bill makes an appropriate amendment to the act to replace this phrase with the words "for a nominated purpose". We will support the amendment.

Payments in anticipation are covered by clause 7. This bill will remove the ability for payment to be made in anticipation of appropriation. We cautiously welcome this proposal, as there are other options for handling issues related to contractual commitments and similar matters that may arise, particularly in June each year, at the end of the budget cycle-for instance the Treasurer's Advance or supplementary appropriation. We support the measure and, again, we will monitor it to ensure that it is not abused.

Clauses 9, 14 and 25 deal with the annual financial statements. The bill proposes to reduce from four months to three months the period within which the territory's annual financial statements are to be audited and presented to the Assembly. This seems to be a reasonable proposal, as it is balanced by removing the requirement for the Auditor-General to audit annual reports from agencies within a very tight time frame.

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