Wanted: a tactful next Victorian auditor-general

By David Donaldson

Monday February 8, 2016

The Victorian parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee has begun the process of recruiting a new Victorian auditor-general.

The previous auditor-general John Doyle, known for his combative style in dealings with government, resigned in September following allegations he sexually harassed and bullied a colleague.

Although Doyle rejected the allegations as a case of misinterpretation and “obviously a subordinate may find reproof or correction very uncomfortable”, a former High Court judge, Ken Hayne was called in to investigate and found the complainant’s claims convincing.

Hayne’s report did not paint a picture of a healthy workplace environment at the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, which has been left in the hands of Dr Peter Frost as acting auditor-general.

Now the Victorian Parliament wants a new auditor-general who can bring a bit of diplomacy to the transformative public sector role.

The Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, which recommends to the Governor who to appoint to the position, has engaged executive search company Odgers Berndtson to assist with the recruitment process.

PAEC started placing advertisements online and in newspapers on Friday:

“Candidates must have the highest integrity and diplomacy combined with sound judgement to fulfil their obligations in one of Victoria’s most critical and transformative public sector appointments.

“Exceptional leadership and interpersonal skills, together with a contemporary knowledge and understanding of corporate business issues and practices, emerging public sector trends and risk management principles are critical to this role. Extensive expertise in the areas of financial accounting, economics and law are also favoured.

“The ability to lead, engage and foster a highly skilled and technical team while driving reform and organisational performance will be highly regarded as will the ability to foster sophisticated relationships with multiple stakeholders. Candidates should also demonstrate a comprehensive working knowledge of the machinery of government in a Westminster system.”

Functions — The auditor-general conducts and reports on financial and performance audits.

Office — VAGO, which has around 185 staff, supports the auditor-general.

Independence — The auditor-general cannot be directed by anyone, including Parliament and the government. Dismissal is only by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, which is a key protection of independence.

Legislation — The Audit Act 1994 gives the auditor-general powers and functions. This includes the legal basis for:

  • accessing all government information
  • freedom to report on findings arising from audits.

Parliament — Although independent, the auditor-general is still accountable to Parliament, via the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC). For example:

  • the Auditor-General must consult PAEC on VAGO’s Annual Plan and all performance audit specifications
  • VAGO is audited regularly—financial and performance audits—by auditors recommended by PAEC.

Applications close on March 9, 2016.

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