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Don’t like the Auditor-General’s Office, or love it too much to let it die? Have your say!

By Skidbladnir - 12 September 2009 10

[First filed: September 10, 2009 @ 06:12]

ACT Auditor Generals OfficeLast week, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts announced they would be having an Inquiry into the Auditor-General Act of 1996 and by extension, the operation of the ACT Auditor-General’s Office.

The Inquiry is now open to submissions from the public, interested organisations, and individuals.
The Terms of Reference are available here.
Get in quick, you only have until 29 January 2010 to make your submissions.

The surroundings of this Committee Review seems to be a combination of:

    a) the recently completed Review of the Government Agencies (Campaign Advertising) Bill 2008 in which the Auditor-General herself stated that she had ‘significant reservations’ about the proposed law and its ability to undermine the impartiality of the Office of the Auditor-General; and
    b) Three potentially interesting hours of Legislative Assembly argument about the Auditor-General’s dependance on pleasing the Executive in order to receive funding, from 24 June 2009. (pages 2797 – 2831) which resulted in Brendan Smyth’s Auditor-General Amendment Bill 2009
    c) The fact that the Auditor-General’s Office has had funding repeatedly cut by the Stanhope Executive, impeding the Auditor’s capacity to complete performance audits in a timely manner and imparing the Auditor’s ability to make ACT Governance more efficient.

Brendan Smyth and Zed Selselja’s comments in the above Hansard indicate the Office now has a backlog of 100 prospective audits, and with its current level of reduced funding, completes audits at a rate of six or seven per year.
Without any further budget cuts or additional needs placed on the Auditor-General by public inquiries, requests by the Assembly, or needs of the Executive, the current backlog should be cleared by the year 2023.

Among other things that the Committee is to look into, there are as follows:
…whether there should be changes to the coverage and scope of the ACT Auditor-General’s audit mandate and, in particular, with the power to audit organisations that receive funds from the ACT Government
… whether the annual budget for the ACT Auditor-General should be set by the Legislative Assembly and not by the Executive Government
… any amendments that could be made which would strengthen the managerial autonomy and resourcing of the ACT Auditor-General
… any amendments which would strengthen the role of the ACT Auditor-General as an independent officer of Parliament.

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10 Responses to
Don’t like the Auditor-General’s Office, or love it too much to let it die? Have your say!
Ori 7:23 am 13 Sep 09

While I agree with everything that has been said so far, in particular, that an effective, independent audit function of the government is very important, I would still like to see what dollars we’re talking about. The ACT’s government budget is less than those of many Commonwealth government agencies. How is it comparing to the audit offices of the Commonwealth? Also to other states & territories? I’m talking about how efficient the ACT auditor is, and everyone here seems to have just assumed that it is already maximising its dollar.

54-11 5:59 pm 11 Sep 09

Silentforce is dead right – this is an attempt by Stanhope to silence the only entity that has ever called him to account. The Libs are a shambles, the Greens a huge disappointment, and the ACTPS is completely captured (except for Phu Tam).

On so many occasions now the AG has done an independent review of Stanhope’s actions, particularly planning decisions, that show what a dysfunctional government he operates.

housebound 4:44 pm 11 Sep 09

The point of a performance audit is so that the Auditor-General can make recommendations to improve the Governance or performance of an entity, so that a public benefit is served, not what is most beneficial for the Executive.

And that, my friend, is precisely the issue.

The sooner the Assembly takes power like this off 5 individuals of varying capability and standing, the better.

Skidbladnir 3:04 pm 11 Sep 09

The Auditor-General’s Office performs a few functions now, being primarily financial audits and performance audits on Territory administrative bodies and authorities.

Financial Audits are designed to advise on and give a measure of an entities’:
a) Effectiveness and efficiency of operations (and also as identify weaknesses in internal controls, and report on poor financial management procedure or practice);
b) Reliability of finance reporting; and
c) Compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

If a public entity fails part of a financial audit, you’re not likely to hear about it unless its a breach to a scandalous degree, then the Auditor-General acts in a public interest capacity, (not that of the Executive), by making the poor financial management known.

Performance Audits are designed to ensure that:
a) entities are making the best use of public resources or funds;
b) entities are meeting commonly-accepted or best-practice standards;
c) entities are effectively managing resources entrusted on the public’s behalf are;
d) entities are efficiently achieving their outcomes;
e) waste of public money is eliminated.

The point of a performance audit is so that the Auditor-General can make recommendations to improve the Governance or performance of an entity, so that a public benefit is served, not what is most beneficial for the Executive.

I work in a system that gets fairly regular financial and performance audits, and the good part of having both is that there is a standardised benchmark for performance, and also a concrete and independent assessment for our own Executive to base praise on.
(Yes, downside is there’s a risk that a report might say we’ve acted or performed poorly, but its up to us to prevent that from happening)

If I was a Government who thought I was doing well (or just wanted to look open to improvement), I’d be keen to have everything auditted so I could take glowing reports to the next election, or make challenges to the opposition based on their inability to achieve improvement.
Otherwise it would all be “politics of personality” like the last election campaign, instead of being able to make a legitimate claim of being the best hope of achieving good governance.

Ideally, if Stanhope and the Cabinet & Executive wants to pursue this path, we should beable to see seperate submissions from a) Stanhope personally b) Stanhope and his Cabinet as the current ACT Executive, and c) anyone who thinks they’d inherit such powers of governance from Jon Stanhope, explaining how either granting the Executive a continuing power to decrease Auditor-General funding at will, watering down Auditor-General authority by decreasing the scope of the Act, and so limiting the Auditor-General’s capacity for legitimate audits somehow serves better governance in the public interest, better accountability in ACT Governance, and improvment in ACT Governance, instead of a selfish interest in continuing their own governance.

James-T-Kirk 12:57 pm 11 Sep 09

Kind of makes sense when you are trying to do the wrong thing.

First thing I take out when I am hacking into a computer system (with the premission of the owners – as a test) is the logging and audit systems.

No logs, or audit capability, no problem 🙂

Silentforce 7:42 am 11 Sep 09

From what was reported in the Canberra Times and what I have deduced all by myself is that the AG is doing too good a job and each audit highlights deficiencies in various ACT Government managed departments like Health, particularly hospitals and the ambulance service.

The AGs office requested more funding to complete its audit program but Jon Stanhope, who presumably does not the audit findings, responded by the Auditors Office is overfunded as it is and he was looking at cutting it back.

My take on this is that if you can’t corrupt them, starve them out.

bd84 9:36 pm 10 Sep 09

Granny said :

The Auditor-General is important. There should be short-term resources allocated to deal with the backlog and ongoing funding at a sustainable level.

From what I’ve read from the transcripts, it isn’t a backlog as such, it’s a list of audits that they would like to perform over the next number of years. The list is dynamic and would grow and shrink depending on the government’s operations, risks and community interests or concerns. The point the AG appeared to be making was that without funding increases at a reasonable rate, the number of audits they would a year will decrease. It wouldn’t be as easy as throwing a few million dollars today in to get through 100 audits.

Granny 12:22 pm 10 Sep 09

The Auditor-General is important. There should be short-term resources allocated to deal with the backlog and ongoing funding at a sustainable level.

Thumper 10:48 am 10 Sep 09

“No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

George Orwell, Animal Farm

Joe Canberran 6:23 am 10 Sep 09

Skid come Jan 28 2010 you should add this post, all subsequent comments and the poll results to the submission.

THE GOVMIT NEEDS TO HEAR THE ROAR OF THE RIOTERS!

(because we are too lazy to submit our views individually and more than likely coherently)

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