A new law putting Western Australia’s local governments under the oversight of the state’s Auditor General passed the State Parliament last week.
The bill’s passage brings WA in line with the rest of Australia. The other five states have also extended their state auditor-general’s powers to local government in the last decade.
By financial year 2020/2021, all WA local governments will be audited, regardless of whether or not their contracts have expired. Additionally, local governments will be required to publish their annual reports including audit reports on their websites to improve access to information for the public.
For state government agencies, the new legislation also added a new category of audits that they will be the subject of, examining the effectiveness of programs and organisations, including compliance with legislative provisions and internal policies. These audits are also more in line with evolving powers in other auditors-general offices’ around Australia.
The plan to extend the AG’s powers was first raised in the Barnett government, and was retained by the McGowan government. In a statement on the passage, Local Government Minister David Templeman said the expanded powers would raise the standards of accountability for local government and increase public confidence in that tier of government.
“The Auditor General is best placed to identify systemic financial issues in the sector, and can assist the sector in developing strategies to address these,” Templeman said in a statement this week.
“WA communities will now be better able to benchmark their local government’s overall efficiency and effectiveness, as well as having access to a truly independent assessment of a local government’s performance and financial position.”
The reforms were largely prompted due to the work of the Corruption and Crime Commission which has been investigating several WA local governments, following allegations of serious misconduct and corruption. These investigations led to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee recommending greater oversight of the sector.
The CCC suggested these and other cases reflect “structural weaknesses” in the sector but the WA Local Government Association hit back, complaining that it was “unfair and inaccurate” to suggest all WA councils were crooked.
Pictured above: Colin Murphy, Western Australia’s Auditor-General