PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
Report: Annual Review 2009-10
Question—That the House take note of the report—proposed.
Mr PAUL GIBSON
(Blacktown) [11.37 a.m.]: I am pleased to present to the House the Public Accounts Committee's Annual Review for 2009-10. This year the committee has completed its inquiry into sustainable procurement, continued its program of following up all the Auditor-General's performance audits, and commenced an inquiry into the quality and timeliness of financial reporting. The committee commenced its inquiry into financial reporting after receiving a briefing from Treasury and the Auditor-General on the financial reports. This briefing was held as part of the committee's renewed focus on financial accountability. Having bedded down its processes for examining performance audits, the committee is strengthening its approaches to pursuing the highest standards of financial accountability. I trust that this inquiry and the committee's ongoing work in this area, together with the cooperation of Treasury, government agencies and the Auditor-General, will result in improved financial management and better use of taxpayers' money in New South Wales.
In 2009-10 the committee tabled six reports. These included a report on the self-referred inquiry into environmentally sustainable Procurement and three omnibus reports on performance audit follow-up inquiries. The committee published its findings on the following inquiries: "Ageing Workforce—Teachers", Efficiency of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions", "Working with Hotels and Clubs to reduce alcohol-related crime", "Signal Failures on the Metropolitan Network", "Recycling and Reuse of Waste by the NSW Public Sector", "Improving Literacy and Numeracy in NSW Public Schools", Delivering Health Care out of Hospitals", and "Managing Injured Police".
The committee also tabled the Review of the Audit Office under section 48A of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1983, and its annual review for 2008-09. The committee commenced its examination into four further performance audits, including: sustaining native forest operations; grants administration; improving road safety—heavy vehicles; and tackling cancer with radiotherapy. In volume 4 of the 2009 financial audit, the Auditor-General expressed concerns regarding the quality of financial reporting in New South Wales. These concerns arose after 12 of the 24 largest agencies submitted financial reports for auditing that contained significant errors. Accordingly, the committee commenced an inquiry into financial reporting in May 2010, and will shortly table its report. The committee also recently tabled its report into the premature release of a draft version of one of the Auditor-General's performance audits.
The committee has received Government responses to its follow-up inquiries into responding to homelessness, connecting with public transport, dealing with household burglaries and government advertising, improving efficiency of irrigation water use on farms, police rostering and managing departmental amalgamations. The essence of several of the committee's recommendations relating to connecting with public transport were either supported or partially accepted by the Government. In relation to responding to homelessness, the Government agreed to the recommendation that the area health services and local courts review the extent to which homeless people access their services, develop new ways of delivering services to the homeless, and consider homeless people when planning new services. The recommendations made by the committee with respect to dealing with household burglaries and government advertising were rejected.
The second report to which the Government responded was the report on examination of audits into improving efficiency of irrigation water use on farms, police rostering and managing departmental amalgamations. The committee was pleased to note that the Government had accepted its recommendations to implement best-practice rosters throughout the New South Wales Police Force. The Government did not accept, however, the committee's recommendation to undertake formal evaluations of departmental amalgamations and to table the results in Parliament.
The committee has not yet received a response to its report on State Plan reporting that was tabled in November 2008. In June 2009 the Department of Premier and Cabinet informed the committee that the Government was finalising its response and it would be provided to the committee as soon as it was completed. In March this year I wrote to the Premier to remind her that the committee was still awaiting the report. The Auditor-General has also recommended that the Government respond to the committee's report in volume 4 of his 2009 financial audit, and again in volume 2 of his 2010 audit. Even though nearly two years have passed since the tabling of the report, its recommendations on how to improve accountability for performance under the State Plan remain pertinent today. I again ask the Government to provide a response to the committee's report as soon as possible.
The Public Finance and Audit Act requires that a review of the Auditor-General's Office be conducted at least once every three years. In accordance with that Act, the Public Accounts Committee was required to ensure the conduct of a review of the Audit Office during 2009. Following a competitive tender process Oakton Services Pty Ltd was appointed to undertake the review, the purpose of which is to examine the auditing practices and standards of the Auditor-General to determine the level of compliance with recognised professional auditing practices and standards, and any legislative requirements. The 2009 review found that the Audit Office had successfully implemented recent changes to both accounting and auditing standards and the committee was pleased to note that the overall conclusion of the review was positive.
The committee also facilitates briefing sessions for all members of Parliament and their staff whenever reports of the Auditor-General are tabled during sitting periods. The committee has an ongoing interest in the Auditor-General's work program on account of its role in examining reports produced by the Audit Office. As the Parliament is the principal client of the Auditor-General, the Auditor-General seeks input from the committee and other members of Parliament on potential topics for audit. Consequently, in addition to the briefing sessions, the committee meets with the Auditor-General to discuss future audits and related issues. The committee was invited to attend the Audit Office's celebration of the publication of its 200th performance audit. The Public Sector Annual Reporting Awards are run jointly by the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Bodies Review Committee to recognise excellence in annual reporting by public sector agencies. The 2010 award was shared by Housing NSW—formerly the Department of Housing—and the Judicial Commission.
The committee remains grateful for the continued assistance it receives from the government agencies it examines, and which are responsible for delivering the improvements to services that we all seek. The committee extends its gratitude to the Auditor-General and his staff, whose professional expertise and independence are a great aid to the committee. I thank also my fellow committee members on this hardworking committee, which has been clearly demonstrated by the three reports about which I have spoken in this Chamber today. I particularly thank Mr Russell Keith and the committee staff for the hard work that they do.
Mr VICTOR DOMINELLO
(Ryde) [11.45 a.m.]: I make a brief contribution to report No. 13/54 of the Public Accounts Committee entitled "Annual Review 2009-10". In the short time I have been a member of the Public Accounts Committee I have realised what an important and powerful committee it is. This committee has a real impact on the lives of the people of this State on a daily basis. One of the most recent reviews conducted by the committee was into out-of-hospital care. I can tell members from my own experience how important that is to the people of New South Wales.
About three or four years ago I was in hospital, in the 72-hour ward, for a cut on my neck for which I was given antibiotics. I was stuck in that hospital for a week just before Christmas and I was desperate to get out. Frustrated, I said to the nursing staff, "I have been here for a week and all you are doing is giving me antibiotics. Surely I can be given some treatment for this at home." But the nursing staff kept saying no. After about three or four days of high-level complaining by me—and this was before I became a member of Parliament—I told them they had to let me out. Eventually someone said, "We can offer you out-of-hospital care", to which I replied, "Fantastic, sign me up." I went home that morning. A nurse then visited me once a day to attend my dressing and to give me antibiotics, and I was fine within a week. In my view I was unnecessarily kept in hospital for three or four days of the time that I spent there.
The report of the Public Accounts Committee shows that each day I spent in hospital cost approximately $750 per day, as opposed to $250 per day being at home. The State could have saved about $1,500 if I had been allowed to go home earlier. Only God knows how many others have experienced that same fate. That experience showed me that in the New South Wales hospital system insufficient recognition is given to the desperate need for out-of-hospital care. Not only is it bad to stay in hospital for a significant period due to the heightened risk of infection; it also costs the people of New South Wales money. The Auditor-General picked up this issue in his report and referred it on to the committee. The committee has explored this in detail and, through the leadership of the chair, is seeking more information.
That is but one example of the many important roles carried out by the Auditor-General and the role performed by the Public Accounts Committee. I also place on record my thanks to my fellow committee members who work very hard on this committee. I acknowledge the leadership of the chair, who is a fine gentleman, and I acknowledge also the hard and professional work of the Auditor-General.
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
(Davidson) [11.49 a.m.]: I wish to speak on the Public Accounts Committee report No. 13/54 dated September 2010 entitled, "Annual Review 2009-10". I am not a member of the Public Accounts Committee but I have taken the opportunity on a number of occasions to attend briefing sessions when reports are tabled during the parliamentary session. The briefing sessions are professionally run by the Auditor-General and his team and, to echo the sentiments of my colleague the member for Ryde, they are professionally chaired by the member for Blacktown. My perception of the member for Blacktown is that generally he is not afraid to speak the truth, even when it reflects poorly on his own side. While I commend the Auditor-General and his team on their professionalism and independence, I condemn this Government, in stronger terms than did the member for Blacktown, for not responding to the report on the State Plan reporting.
I have spoken about this issue before in the House and I have highlighted matters in relation to it. I was not aware that the chair had written again to the Premier in March this year highlighting the incompetence and unacceptability of the Government in not responding appropriately to the report. It is an important report and the State Plan is an important document. Last year the Government did not release its own annual report on the State Plan on time. It was not released until some months later. Coincidentally, I have lodged a written question on notice asking the Premier whether this year's annual report on the State Plan will be released on time. It is due at the end of this year. It should be released at the end of this year prior to the State election. It should not be hidden, as are so many documents under this Government. This Parliament deserves a proper explanation as to why the Government has not responded to the report on the State Plan reporting. For us to be here almost two years after the committee's report was tabled is absolutely unacceptable. The Premier needs to pick up her act and to respond properly on this matter. If she does not, as the chair would acknowledge in more tempered terms, it shows disdain for the committee and for this Parliament.
Question—That the House take note of the report—put and resolved in the affirmative.