8 July 2021

Audit Office to probe War Memorial redevelopment and vaccine rollout in 2021-2022 program

| Ian Bushnell
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Australian War Memorial

Demolition work has commenced at the Australian War Memorial as part of its $500 million expansion. Photo: Fiona Scott.

The Australian War Memorial’s controversial $500 million redevelopment, the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the Australian Public Service’s management of staff leave and contractors will come under the spotlight of the national watchdog this financial year.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), fresh from laying bare the shortcomings of sports and commuter car park grants, will also probe the $1.3 billion Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) grants program, which has come under fire for being a Coalition pork-barrelling tool.

Other subjects included in ANAO’s program of potential audits for 2021-2022 include the effectiveness of the aged care regulator, in the wake of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety; a $40 million grant to News Corp’s Fox Sports Australia; and National Capital Authority procurement.

The Australian War Memorial project, which began demolition works this week, will expand the institution so it can tell the stories of more contemporary missions and conflicts.

It has generated a war of words between the War Memorial and its critics, who have argued that due process and approval procedures have been trampled on.

The audit will examine the effectiveness of the War Memorial’s management of the development project, including planning, achieving value for money in procurement, and progress to date in delivering the project.

ANAO will examine a number of pandemic-related areas, including the faltering COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the seemingly ineffective COVIDSafe app and government debt.

The Commonwealth has been criticised for its vaccine acquisition program and slowness of the rollout, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to rev up with his four-stage plan announced in June.

The audit will examine governance, coordination and management of the COVID-19 vaccine program, including research and development, purchase and manufacturing, international partnerships, regulation and safety, vaccine distribution, and immunisation administration and monitoring.

Other audits will examine the design and procurement processes for the COVIDSafe app, how effectively it has been promoted, and the extent to which it has assisted in contact tracing; and the effectiveness of the Australian Office of Financial Management’s (AOFM’s) management of Australian Government debt, raised to fund its COVID-19 economic response measures.

Empty COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine vials

The Australian National Audit Office will examine the Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The aged care regulator will come under scrutiny after the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety reported that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) and its predecessors had “not demonstrated strong and effective regulation” of the sector.

The audit will examine whether the ACQSC effectively regulates the aged care sector and enforces its standards.

The audit of the controversial BBRF grants program will examine the development of the program guidelines, included eligibility requirements, the awarding of grant funding, evaluation of each round, as well as arrangements for the overall evaluation of the program against its objectives.

The $40 million grant to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports Australia was awarded without tender, and the audit will examine whether it is being appropriately administered by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

The grant was designed to support television and online coverage of under-represented sports, and the focus of the audit will be on whether it has been appropriately managed to achieve its purpose and secure the anticipated benefits, and that the grant funding is being used as intended.

Three audits will encompass public service staff and Government Business Enterprises (GBE) executives.

One audit will look at how well Australian Public Service staff leave is being managed, and another audit at how big agencies such as Defence, the Australian Taxation Office, Services Australia and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs manage their non-ongoing staff, the appropriateness of their use, and the cost compared with full-time permanent employees.

A third audit will examine the remuneration practices for GBE staff and whether they adhere to the rules. This comes after the gifting of Cartier watches to Australia Post executives as bonuses resulted in company boss Christine Holgate being forced to resign.

Recently completed procurements have included a five-year, $7.2 million contract to operate and maintain Scrivener Dam; a four-year, $6.9 million contract for pay parking on national land; and a $3.1 million contract let as part of the three-year program to repair, strengthen and renew the walls of Lake Burley Griffin.

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