Audit Amendment Bill 2017 Second Reading

20 Feb 2018

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 I rise to speak on the Audit Amendment Bill 2017. I will just speak briefly on this bill. I will raise one issue in the bill that we think is very good and one area we think could be improved. This is a full rewrite of the act, which is what the Auditor-General called for in its annual report in 2013–14, stating that a full rewrite of the act was absolutely necessary to make the most of the role of the Auditor-General. It sought a commitment from the government and the opposition to make that a priority in this Parliament. It is good to see that that is happening. We are of the view that it should be happening, and certainly it is a much better approach than going through a series of amendments at various stages, which has previously occurred.

The one area that we really are supportive of is increasing the powers of the Auditor-General in regard to giving them power to access premises, which is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of the follow-the-dollar powers, which has also been introduced in this Parliament. Certainly the Greens strongly support that particular aspect because, without having those access powers, essentially the follow-the-dollar powers are undermined because the Auditor-General is unable to verify the information of non-government entities without their cooperation.

In my understanding, that cooperation has been refused in some instances. Whilst the Auditor-General has the power to compel individuals to provide documents, to cause a search to be made and to request and receive documents, they do not have the explicit legal right to enter and remain on the premises of any authority. This power is actually included in the commonwealth legislation, and also in that of the ACT, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. So certainly we are supportive of that aspect.

Where we would like to see it improved is with the inclusion of environmental effects. So we would like to see the objectives of the Auditor-General, of this act, be amended to include the consideration of the environment. Again, this occurs increasingly in other jurisdictions, where they are adding the consideration of the environment alongside efficiency, effectiveness and economy. In fact the ACT audit act states:

In the conduct of a performance audit, the Auditor-General shall, where appropriate, take into account environmental issues relative to the operations being reviewed or examined, having regard to the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

So certainly we think this would be an important addition to the considerations of the Auditor-General, given that there are a number of private-public partnerships, private contractors and other organisations that are acting on behalf of governments and are involved in activities that have significant environmental effects. So that is the one area where we would like to see it improved.

I was resistant, even though it did cross my mind, to take the approach of the member for Warrandyte and go through the Auditor-General’s greatest hits as part of this contribution. I will not do that, but the one thing that I did want to point out from the Auditor-General — it is a good opportunity to bring this to light in the chamber — is in last year’s financial audit of TAFEs. The report stated that:

The improvement in revenue in 2015 and 2016 has been driven by additional government grant funding, rather than growth in revenue. Student numbers continued to fall, and all other sources of revenue such as student fees and contestable funding declined in 2015 and 2016.

So whilst I will be interested to see what audits come up in the next financial year under the Skills First reforms, what that tells us is that TAFEs are not out of the woods — they are certainly not out of the woods. Their recurrent funding is still declining, and essentially their books are being balanced by one-off government grants or grants that are lasting for a period of four years over the forward budget estimates. What I would say there is that the financial situation of TAFEs is still perilous. Obviously it is not financially sustainable in the long term to be simply relying on government grants. We need to make sure that where there is recurrent funding going to the vocational education and training sector, the vast majority is going to our public TAFE system to support it.

Anyway, that is just one element of an Auditor-General report that I thought I would point out to the chamber. They obviously do great work on behalf of Victorians to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are being spent effectively, so the Greens will be supporting this bill.

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