Page 267 - Week 01 - Thursday, 17 February 2011

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that we were very much indebted to the Australasian Council of Auditors-General, who put in a very detailed submission on behalf of all the auditors-general. We have referred quite extensively to the collective wisdom of the Australasian auditors-general.

One of the things that the council talked about was that in New Zealand there is the officer of parliament idea. The concept of officers of parliament is about officers whose function is to provide a check on the arbitrary use of power by the executive; they must only discharge functions which the house itself could carry out if it wanted to. Normally you would not create an officer of parliament, but there are a few occasions when this is something which could be considered. We felt that the office of the Auditor-General was the position where this was potentially something that could be considered. They do have a unique relationship with the Assembly and this would be a way of recognising and strengthening this relationship.

Another obvious area where there is a unique relationship which may need to be strengthened is the parliamentary involvement in the budget appropriations for the Auditor-General. Clearly, no matter what the act for the Auditor-General says, without resources the Auditor-General is powerless. One of the ways that the Auditor-General’s functioning and power can be reduced is by just not providing them with sufficient resources. This has been an ongoing matter of discussion within PAC as long as I have been there, and I would be fairly confident that it was a matter of discussion in previous PACs. It is clearly also a matter of some controversy, and I note that Mr Smyth has some legislation before the chamber dealing with this.

We, however, have a new recommendation on this subject, recommendation 24. What it seeks to do is a make the present situation a bit clearer. At present, while PAC makes a recommendation as to what the Auditor-General’s funding should be, there is no clear mechanism by which this would become public knowledge. It always ends up becoming public knowledge, but it is a very messy process. Recommendation 24 is:

… that the Auditor-General Act 1996 be amended to provide the Legislative Assembly through the Standing Committee on Public Accounts with a formal role in considering the Audit Office’s draft budget estimates and making a report with recommendations to the Legislative Assembly, as part of the Australian Capital Territory’s budget process, on the level of funding required by the Auditor-General.

The committee recognises the role of the executive in terms of setting the budget. It also recognises that there are many competing demands upon the budget. This was the agreed recommendation as to how to go forward on that. I suspect that other members may have more to say about that.

We also spoke a bit about external reviews of the operation of the Auditor-General’s office, noting that a review was held just last year and that we were very pleased that this was a generally favourable view of the audit office. The process of getting there has been a bit frustrating. Recommendations 16 through to 22 will strengthen and make a bit clearer how this will happen the next time—if the recommendations are accepted and implemented. It was a slightly confusing and frustrating process, although it is a process which we think should be undertaken on a regular basis.

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