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Public Finance and Audit (Auditor General Access to Cabinet Submissions) Amendment Bill Speech

17 May 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:25): I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of this bill. I am disappointed to hear that the Labor government will not be supporting it. The argument seems to be 'Well, the Liberals didn't do it, so we are not going to do it either.' That is not a very compelling argument, with respect to the Leader of the Government in this place. It is not a very compelling argument to say, 'Well, the Liberals were poor on transparency, so we are going to be poor on transparency, too.' We need to do better than that.

We welcome the bill that has been put forward by the Hon. Heidi Girolamo. In the Greens, we recognise that the role of the Auditor-General is crucial to scrutinise and ensure transparency and accountability of the government of the day. In his 2022 report, the Auditor-General stated that:

At the time of writing, we had requested but not received a number of cabinet documents to fulfill my legislative obligations to form opinions.

The Public Finance and Audit (Auditor-General Access to Cabinet Submissions) Amendment Bill 2022 ensures that the Auditor-General can access cabinet submissions as required to undertake their statutory duties. The Auditor-General is an independent authority and a level of separation is necessary to ensure true accountability when auditing the South Australian government; however, we need to ensure that the Auditor-General has the power they require to access records.

Most notably, in his report the Auditor-General made it clear that he had requested documents pertaining to the payment of sporting clubs and local infrastructure grants. There have been accusations of pork-barrelling over grants. Regardless of what these grants were, the Auditor-General should have had all the relevant information at their disposal to be able to make a suitable review of the processes involved. In relation to the case of sports grants, the executive director of The Centre for Public Integrity has said:

Election commitments around spending should still go through proper processes…there needs to be criteria. There needs to be open tender.

Of course, we know what can happen when that does not occur. We saw it with the Morrison government and the complete fiasco that unfolded there about the sports rorts. We do not want to see a similar culture take hold in South Australia. I am not suggesting that is what has occurred. We want to ensure there is not the potential for that kind of culture to take hold in South Australia, so this is a very important safeguard. Scrutiny of these processes is the role of the Auditor-General, but if their office does not have access to the documents they require, scrutiny is impossible.

As I said, it is disappointing to hear that the government will not be supporting this. I fear that it may suffer a similar fate to the other bill that passed this place relating to the disclosure of diaries. The Greens have been pushing for increased accountability no matter who is in government, whether it be the Labor Party or the Liberal Party. Members will recall that I put forward a bill in this place that was passed with the support of the opposition and the crossbench that required ministers to disclose their diaries. Unfortunately, that has been held up in the other place by the Labor government and I fear they are now going to stall on this bill as well.

That is a disappointing outcome because sunlight really is the best disinfectant in our democracy. We should let the sunshine in and, no matter who is in government, we should be subjecting all ministers to appropriate accountability, so the Greens will be supporting the bill.