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1 October 2020

In the face of a damaging shortfall in the upcoming budget allocation to the Auditor-General, independent senator Rex Patrick has called on the Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) to publicly release the Committee’s letter to the Prime Minister making its recommendations on the Auditor-General’s budget requests.

“The public have a right to know whether the JCPAA supports the Auditor’s budget submission, or not”, said Senator Patrick. “The JCPAA is a committee of what is supposed to be an open and transparent Parliament. I am most disturbed that the Chair of the Committee is running the JCPAA like a secret chamber.”

NSW Liberal MP, Lucy Wicks, is the Chair of the JCPAA.

“It appears Ms Wicks does not appreciate that she works for the public and that she needs to be open and transparent with the public. She should not be using her position as Committee Chair to run a protection racket for Prime Minister Morrison or to hide the decisions of the Committee”, said Senator Patrick who is also a member of the Committee.

The Auditor-General is an independent officer of the Parliament. Although the Prime Minister is the Minister responsible for the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), the Auditor-General’s responsibility is to the Australian Parliament, particularly the JCPAA.

Under section 53 of the Auditor-General’s Act 1997 the Auditor-General is required to tender his budget submissions to the JCPAA. Under section 8(1)(j) and (l) of the Public Accounts and Audit Act 1951 the JCPAA is to consider the Auditor’s budget submission and make a recommendation to the Prime Minister.

“It is highly inappropriate for Ms Wicks, who controls the Committee by virtue of the number of Coalition members on the Committee, to keep the Committee’s recommendation from the public.”

“If the Committee is not recommending the Auditor be properly funded, then the public has a right to know. If the Committee is supporting proper funding then that recommendation should be made public to put appropriate pressure on the PM.”

“The work of the Auditor must be strongly supported”, said Senator Patrick. “The Auditor calls things exactly as he sees them. Whilst this is quite at odds with the Morrison Government’s propensity for spin and secrecy, which may cause the PM to silence the Auditor by starving the ANAO of resources, a Committee of the Parliament should not be aiding and abetting the PM in undermining the Auditor”

“As the Government ramps up taxpayer funded spending for COVID-19 recovery we simply cannot afford to underfund the audit watchdog that has exposed the ‘Sports Rorts’ scandal, dodgy airport land deals, multibillion defence blowouts and many other examples of waste and poor administration in Government.”

“The JCPAA needs to place its recommendation to the PM on the table face up for everyone to see”, said Senator Patrick. “This secrecy is entirely inappropriate and reflects poorly on the members of the Committee - although I acknowledge many on the Committee support my call for full transparency.”