Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, I make a report by way of a statement relating to the draft budget estimates for the Australian National Audit Office and the Parliamentary Budget Office for 2021-22. I table the statement.
by leave—This is a very interesting little report and it's frankly a little known committee, with my humble apologies to those that populate the committee. It's made a very interesting recommendation. It's essentially said the PBO and ANAO, two of our important accountability mechanisms in our structures of government, are underfunded and deserve to have more funding. That's a very encouraging report, given that, sadly, for many, many years these organisations have been running on the smell of an oily rag and their capacity and output have been projected to diminish should they not receive additional top-up funding in the budget. We'll all find out in two and a bit hours whether or not this government is going to fund the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Australian National Audit Office to do the valuable work that they do. But it's encouraging that this report is suggesting that they do just that, so it would be a very brave government that ignores the recommendations of its own committee.
I'm an eternal optimist and I look for positive signs. One hopes that that's what we'll see tonight because we have a very impoverished transparency structure at the federal level of government. We don't have a federal corruption watchdog. We have the Australian National Audit Office, or ANAO as they're known, who do amazing work, but who are really worked to the bone. Sadly, because of the massive amount of dodginess that this government keeps coming up with, they've got a lot to do and they don't have a lot of funding to do it with. Likewise, the PBO, an initiative that the Greens are really proud to have been a part of establishing when we were in minority government with then Prime Minister Gillard, is essentially a budget honesty mechanism that allows parties to seek independent costing of their election promises. Once an election is called, parties are required to do that so there's a level of transparency and accountability to the public so that the public know whether costings of promises either add up or don't. In the Greens, of course, they always add up. So these are two really important bodies that are all the more important precisely because we don't have a federal corruption watchdog.
That's another interesting point. In last year's budget there was funding for a federal corruption watchdog, but we still don't have a copy of the bill. In the most recent Senate estimates, I asked the minister who was representing at the time. Turns out they're going to do a third round of consultation on the shape of a federal corruption watchdog. I suspect the third round of consultation will tell you exactly what the first and second rounds told you: we need one, it should have teeth, it needs to be independent, it needs decent funding to do its job and it needs all the powers of a royal commission and various other really good suggestions. That is a delay mechanism if I ever saw one! It's as plain as day. In the absence of a watchdog with teeth to actually do the job that is so desperately needed, we really need the PBO and the ANAO to get the funding that they are asking for to do their jobs.
On the ANAO, they've got a very proud history of scrutinising government expenditure and government actions, and it's led to some rather embarrassing reports, I might point out—embarrassing for the government, that is. The ANAO has exposed incidences of dodgy conduct sometimes to a level that I would consider to be corruption. Again, this is exactly why we need a corruption watchdog. But one wonders if that's why the ANAO has fallen out of favour with this government: precisely because the ANAO is holding this government to account.
The fact is the ANAO have a target of undertaking 48 audits a year, but, because of other obligations that they're also legislatively required to undertake, their resources are diminished. Without an additional top-up of funding, their capacity to undertake audits of government dodginess is going to reduce by 20 per cent. The ANAO investigations led to the sports reports revealed, and it had a hand in revealing sports reports No. 2. There's a list of documents just in today's red where the ANAO has investigated other conduct that's unseemly at best and often downright dodgy at worst. Again, this is exactly why we need a strong and independent federal corruption watchdog and a well-resourced ANAO. Standards need to improve. Even in my time here, nigh on 10 years, the level of accountability and conduct that's deemed acceptable has reached an all-time low. We need these bodies to be strong. To do a good job they need appropriate funding. The standard of behaviour here, the standard of decision-making, the callousness with which public money is allocated and the flagrant electioneering and pork-barrelling that goes on is worse than it's ever been.
I'm really pleased that this Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit have noted the requests for additional funding made by the ANAO and by the PBO. We endorse the requests. The government will be judged tonight on whether or not it has increased the funding of those two integral integrity bodies and it will certainly be judged on its continued failure to deliver on a corruption watchdog—and on all the other elements of the budget. With that, I commend this report to the Senate, and I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.