Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 11 Hansard (Thursday, 22 September 2005) . . Page.. 3606 ..
More contentiously, this bill requires agencies to deliver biannual rather that quarterly reports, which is not necessarily the best way of ensuring transparency, although the degree to which the quarterly reports are closely or usefully scrutinised is probably open to question. I appreciate the view that a biannual approach could be more efficient and I understand that with this move agencies intend to improve the quality of those reports.
I really think that that is a moot point. Given that agencies have monthly internal reporting procedures, one could argue that quarterly reporting ought not to be too great an imposition. On the other hand if, as we understand is the expectation, the quality of the six-monthly reports really would be raised, we might be better off cutting our losses. I appreciate that the Liberals argue that we should be able to ask for both. Unless it can be demonstrated by the Treasurer that such a task is unreasonable, I am inclined to support them.
I am also sympathetic to the notion of requiring annual reports to be distributed to the members of the Assembly by the end of September, rather than being tabled in the Assembly within six sitting days of being presented to the Treasurer, leading to their becoming available as late as mid-November. I do not believe that getting them to us by the end of September would make any greater demand on government officers. I think we are all aware of the problems that come from committees looking at annual reports too late in the next financial year.
I understand the argument that the Auditor-General ought not to be required to audit sustainability and various qualitative performance measures in the same way as financial transactions are audited, although I am not entirely comfortable with the shift away from scrutiny of these “softer” goals. To quote the explanatory statement, “measures that measure performance against longer term and strategic outcomes will be exempt from annual scrutiny by the Auditor-General.” Given the Auditor-General’s recent useful review of sustainability performance measures and the government’s exploration of sustainability indicators and triple bottom line accounting, I would say that we need to look at other ways of evaluating longer-term performance.
I would suggest that the Auditor-General’s recommendation that one agency take leadership of sustainability indicators be taken up and that the sustainability unit might be the best place to coordinate sustainability performance measures for each agency. Given the review is under way, that is not a measure for this bill. However, I will propose an amendment to ensure that boards of territory authorities have the capacity to understand such measures when they adopt them.
I accept the proposition that departmental chief executives should be held, and in effect be seen to be held, accountable to their department’s proposed budget rather than to financial targets. The management of the budget overall is really scrutinised by the public and Assembly members during the estimates process. Financial targets as the key accountability measure are a reflection of the view that a government department is, in essence, a business. Whilst we expect departments to operate in a business-like way, we measure their effectiveness more subtly and more broadly than we do a business. Financial targets may well be useful internally, but they do not usefully define a chief executive’s performance.