Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (12 November) . . Page.. 3469 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
That was a let-out available to ministers in governments. Under the classic formulation of the doctrine of a ministerial responsibility, they were able to say that if they did not personally make a decision or ought not to have known a piece of information they provided was wrong then they were not liable to have to resign if the information turned out to be egregiously wrong. That formulation has been a little muddied by the decision the Assembly made a couple of years ago about Bruce stadium, but this is not the place for a debate about that.
Whereas it might be unclear what the standard of accountability is for ministers at the moment, in this place at least, we have a chance here to decide what level of accountability should apply to the chief executives of government agencies. I buy the argument that if it is a small number of contracts the chief executive perhaps should sign the list off, should certify it in writing and should wear the consequences of giving false information to parliament. But I am not sure that I can accept the argument where there is a much larger number of pieces of information.
It would seem to me that it would be unfair or unreasonable to ask the CEO to personally check each of hundreds or thousands of contracts in their agency. Is it reasonable that the chief executive should have to resign if the information provided is wrong? If the answer to that is no, then it would not be reasonable to require him to certify in writing. The appropriate course of action is to oppose the amendment.
MS TUCKER (5.18): This amendment tightens up the requirement on chief executives to comply with the act by getting them to certify in writing that they have complied with the requirement that a list of all contracts with confidentiality clauses be forwarded to the Auditor-General as well as providing the contracts themselves.
This amendment more closely matches the recommendation of the Finance and Public Administration Committee than the provisions of this bill. Getting chief executives to sign a statement does not seem an onerous requirement on them, given that they already have overall responsibility for implementing the act, but it might put a bit more pressure on them, as it would be harder for them to pass the buck if something went wrong.
This approach is similar to the requirement of the Financial Management Act that chief executives must sign off on the annual financial statements their agency sends to the Auditor. I am therefore prepared to support this amendment.
I note the comments of Mr Quinlan and Mr Humphries. Mr Humphries said, if I heard him correctly, that there were hundreds of thousands of contracts. I am surprised.
Mr Humphries: Hundreds or thousands.
MS TUCKER: Thank you for that correction. I was surprised that there would be hundreds of thousands of contracts. I was beginning to think maybe I should reconsider this. I agree with Ms Dundas' amendment. The legislation says that chief executives must be responsible. This is about accountability. Under the legislation, they are responsible anyway. The buck stops with them. I would have thought it would help them if they were held responsible if there was a failure. By having this requirement, they will