NSW auditor general calls for stronger powers

By David Donaldson

Monday September 14, 2015

Tony Whitfield
Tony Whitfield

Acting New South Wales auditor general Tony Whitfield has reiterated his predecessor Grant Hehir’s call for his office to gain “follow the dollar” powers already in place in other states, as well as the ability to audit local councils.

Whitfield used the Audit Office of New South Wales annual report to “encourage” the NSW government to act on previous recommendations to bolster the agency’s strength:

“The Public Accounts Committee in 2013 recommended that I have ‘follow the dollar’ powers. These powers will allow me to go beyond government agencies and examine the increasing number of non-government organisations and other external service providers that spend public money. The Commonwealth and several other State Auditors-General already have these powers.”

He also argued that the auditor general’s office should be given the power to audit the state’s local councils:

“In another review, the Independent Local Government Review Panel: Revitalising Local Government recommended that NSW local council audits come under my control. Currently, local government councils in New South Wales appoint their own auditors. In response, my office has been working closely with the Office of Local Government to prepare for the possible transition of local government audits to the Audit Office. I am confident we will be ready and will perform well, should the change go ahead.”

He also requested a strengthening of other powers, including to be able to initiate compliance audits and gaining access to cabinet documents.

“A previous Public Accounts Committee report and the NSW Financial Audit 2011 Report (Lambert Report) recommended that I have explicit powers to undertake compliance audits. This recognised the limitations I have in conducting compliance audits as performance audits or as a request from the Treasurer. A far more efficient way is to allow me to independently initiate such reviews.

“The Lambert Report made a number of other recommendations including giving me powers to access cabinet documents; allowing me to choose not to audit dormant entities; reducing the number of days an agency has to respond to a performance audit; and requiring me to include agency comments in my financial audit reports to parliament.

“I encourage the NSW Government to act on these recommendations.”

Victoria’s Labor government promised to give its auditor general follow the dollar powers — along with other reforms to the integrity system — while in opposition, but has not yet put forward legislation to do so. A review into Victoria’s integrity system by Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings is supposed to be completed in the latter part of this year.

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