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Reviews of Auditor-General's Reports

 

Reviewing Reports of the Auditor-General

Introduction

The Auditor-General makes an essential contribution to the system of public accountability, serving as the external auditor of the Executive Government and providing “…independent assurance to the Parliament, the Government and the public generally on the financial statements, financial administration and accountability of Australian Government public sector entities” (Auditor-General, Annual Report 2005-06, p. 2).

The Auditor-General performs a role for which Parliament itself is not well suited. The Auditor-General has the resources, knowledge and technical expertise needed to assess whether government agencies present financial statements which fairly represent their financial position and which comply with relevant laws and standards.

The Parliament also looks to the Auditor-General for assurances that government agencies perform their functions efficiently and effectively.

The Auditor-General, the Parliament and its committees all play a role in the cycle of public accountability. The close links between the Auditor-General and the Parliament are recognised and reinforced by the Public Accounts Committee Act 1951 (the PAAC Act), which requires the Joint Committee of Public Accounts (JCPAA) to examine all reports of the Auditor-General which are tabled in the Parliament.

The main aim of this page is to highlight the importance of these links, and to make known the procedures the JCPAA adopts in examining reports of the Auditor-General.

The JCPAA's statutory role

The role of the JCPAA in examining reports of the Auditor-General is neither discretionary nor constrained in any way. It is a role which the JCPAA considers to be important in the process of ensuring that the Executive is held to account by the Parliament.

Throughout its history the JCPAA has periodically produced reports based on its consideration of reports of the Auditor-General.

Review by other parliamentary committees

In addition to the JCPAA's statutory review process, the House of Representatives has, over the last decade, developed the practice of occasionally referring audit reports to its standing committees, and to certain joint committees. Senate committees too occasionally review issues arising from audit reports.

The referral of audit reports to other committees is appropriate in some circumstances - for example, where an audit report is relevant to a subject already being considered by another committee, or where an audit report deals with an issue in which another committee has developed a particular expertise.

However, it is important to note that the requirement to review described in the PAAC Act is not satisfied by the referral of an audit report to another committee. The Act is specific in its requirement that the JCPAA examine all audit reports.

While the JCPAA is conscious of avoiding unnecessary duplication, it intends to fulfil its obligation by examining all audit reports, including those which have been referred to other committees. In most cases it is likely that the JCPAA's examination will show that the other committee has reviewed, or is reviewing, the major issues identified in the audit report. However, there may be occasions when the JCPAA decides that further review is needed.

The JCPAA's review procedures

The JCPAA's primary purpose in reviewing audit reports is to assess whether audited agencies have responded appropriately to the Auditor-General's findings. In most cases the JCPAA will avoid going over ground already well covered during an audit and will focus on any disputed issues and on whether agencies have acted upon their initial responses, or have demonstrated a credible intention to do so.

The JCPAA's review procedures are built around a series of regular public hearings. At these hearings evidence will be taken from agencies which have been the subject of 'significant' audit findings in the preceding months.

Not all audited agencies will be called to these hearings - in some cases the JCPAA may decide that the audit findings do not warrant consideration at a public hearing, or that the agency's response has been adequate; in other cases the audit report may be taken up as part of a specific JCPAA inquiry.

In deciding which review approach to take in relation to particular audit reports, the JCPAA will usually consider:

The result of the JCPAA's review will be, in all cases, a report to Parliament. The report may take the form of a compendium report, containing the JCPAA's comments on a number of reports considered at the hearings (these reports will appear on a regular basis). Alternatively, in the case of an audit report which leads to or contributes to a specific JCPAA inquiry, the JCPAA's report will focus on the issues arising from that audit report and will be presented to Parliament at the completion of the inquiry.

Further information

For information about the work of the Commonwealth Auditor-General and the Australian National Audit Office visit the ANAO home page.

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