Independent South Australian MP John Darley believes all of the state government’s departments need to conduct wholesale efficiency reviews considering every one of their functions, and that the auditor-general needs greater freedom to investigate wasted resources.
Darley introduced a two-pronged bill to parliament late last month, telling his fellow upper-house members both measures aimed to reduce waste and increase efficiency by making sure resources, including staff, are deployed where most needed.
“The first part of the bill makes amendments to the Public Finance and Audit Act and removes restrictions on what the Auditor-General is able to investigate. Currently, the Auditor-General is restricted in what they are able to investigate,” Darley said.
“The bill removes restrictions and enables the Auditor-General to examine matters in connection with an audit if they are of the opinion that an examination is warranted or if it is in the public interest.”
The second half of the rather concise bill would modify the Public Sector Act to force the chief executives of all administrative units to look for savings by reviewing their functions and the resources needed to perform them. If the bill became law they would have to report the results of the one-off reviews to their minister no later than six months later. Ministers would be required to table the reports within 12 days of receipt.
“I have previously stated that I do not agree with the application of efficiency dividends across the board in public sector agencies. Whilst savings may look good on paper, arbitrary cuts may see resources taken away from sectors that are in need, whilst leaving behind resources that are surplus to requirements in another area,” said Darley, a former running mate of federal senator Nick Xenophon.
SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis says the Labor government agrees with Darley’s intentions and would consider the proposed legislation but, indicated it is unlikely to support it in its current form.
Koutsantonis said the government would prefer public sector resources were used delivering services instead of “producing even more reports required by legislation” according to a report in The Advertiser.
His opposite number, Liberal treasury spokesperson Rob Lucas, made similar comments to the local paper, saying his party was “sympathetic to the goals” Darley expressed but suggesting it would prefer to find a different way to achieve them.
But the upper house independent remains convinced it is time for departmental heads to take a step back and look at “each and every activity” their agencies currently perform in terms of its purpose, any progress being made or otherwise, and whether it is still worthwhile. Public servants should then make sure activities that are still required are being performed as efficiently as possible and in the most appropriate locations.
“Importantly, an operational audit will identify and reduce unnecessary red tape, which is integral with trying to attract growth to the state,” said Darley, a former SA valuer-general who promised voters he would demand more bang for their public sector buck.
The last whole-of-government efficiency review in SA was the 2010 Sustainable Budget Commission.