Page 4786 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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What was Mr Tonkin and the grandly named Office of Special Adviser doing? We know from the 2003-04 Chief Minister’s Department annual report that, once he had finished on the bushfire inquiry, he “remained on secondment working on national security issues”. In annual report hearings it was alleged by the government that this would produce some direct benefit for the ACT. How Mr Tonkin’s work on the North West Shelf is of direct benefit to the landlocked Canberra region is debatable.

What was also clear in these hearings was that the government had had no contact with Mr Tonkin; he had provided them with no reports or feedback; and they had a very foggy idea of what it was they were paying him $1,100 a day to do. The only hint of accountability was the half-page in the annual report. Even so, accountability was thin on the ground with the OSA. Let me remind members of the findings of the Auditor-General:

The role and functions of the Office were not well documented, and since April 2004 there is only a tenuous connection to the outputs of the Chief Minister’s Department.

Accountability arrangements were unclear.

The Special Adviser’s Annual Report for 2003-04 did not fully meet the requirements of the Annual Reports Act or the Annual Reports Directions.

The funding of the OSA, while legal, may not be justified on merit on its own nor reflect good public management.

The situation, if continued, increases the risk for inappropriate uses of authority.

Given this background, imagine my concerns when I opened the 2004-05 Chief Minister’s annual report to find no reference at all to the OSA. Surely, given that the OSA existed from 1 July 2004 to 30 April 2005, some 10 months of the financial year, it would be required to report. But, no, there was nothing.

In further advice to me the Auditor-General explained:

In essence there is no obligation to report under the Act, because at the end of the financial year there was no person employed as Chief Executive of the OSA … imposed with an obligation to report. ... It follows that if no obligation to report exists under the Act, then Section 1.4 of the Chief Minister’s Annual … Directions … does not apply to the OSA.

However, it is not only the embarrassment of the OSA that can avoid scrutiny. As the auditor goes on to say:

… it seems to me that the current reporting arrangements under the Act and Directions leave a gap in accountability to the Legislative Assembly and the community in situations where an administrative unit is abolished or the appointment of a Chief Executive is ended during the course of the financial year.

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