The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit’s inquiry into the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) Report No. 6 of 2018–19 Army’s Protected Mobility Vehicle – Light focused on the issue of a certificate under paragraph 37(1)(b) of the Auditor-General Act 1997 (the Act).
Section 37 of the Act states:
(1)The Auditor General must not include particular information in a public report if:
(a)the Auditor General is of the opinion that disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest for any of the reasons set out in subsection (2); or
(b)the Attorney General has issued a certificate to the Auditor General stating that, in the opinion of the Attorney General, disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest for any of the reasons set out in subsection (2).
The entirety of section 37 is included as Appendix A to this report.
The Attorney-General issued a certificate under section 37(1)(b) of the Auditor-General Act 1997 on 28 June 2018 on the grounds that the disclosure of certain information contained in the ANAO’s audit report would be contrary to the public interest for one or both of the following reasons:
it would prejudice the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth (s.37 (2)(a)); and
it would unfairly prejudice the commercial interests of any body or person (s.37 (2)(e)).
As a consequence, the Auditor-General issued a Disclaimer of Conclusion in the ANAO report:
Because of the significance of the matter described in the Basis for Disclaimer of Conclusion section of my report, I have not been able to prepare a report that expresses a clear conclusion on the audit objective in accordance with the ANAO Auditing Standards. Accordingly, I am unable to express a conclusion on the Department of Defence’s acquisition of light protected vehicles under Defence project Land 121 Phase 4 was effective and achieved value for money.
The ANAO report made no recommendations.
In the absence of ANAO conclusions or recommendations, the Committee was correspondingly unable to inquire into the Department of Defence’s procurement processes or consider whether value for money has been achieved.
The Committee’s inquiry focused on the operation of section 37 of the Act, since this Audit Report was the first time a certificate under the current Act had been issued, and the first time that any Auditor-General has been prevented from advising the Parliament of their conclusions as to value for money.
The Committee has recommended that the JCPAA conduct an inquiry into the issuing of a certificate under section 37 on each occasion it is used to measure the effectiveness of the provision in allowing for effective scrutiny.
In relation to section 37, the Committee believes that it is important that an appropriate balance between transparency and valid reasons for non‑publication of certain material is achieved.