Question time: Public Accounts Committee

10th November 2022

Mr ALEX GREENWICH (Sydney) (14:43): I direct my question to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the member for Lake Macquarie.

The SPEAKER: Order! We are about to see history made.

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: I will start again. My question is directed to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the member for Lake Macquarie. How has the Public Accounts Committee ensured oversight and transparency in government expenditure, including recommendations of further legislative change?

The SPEAKER: That question is being asked pursuant to Standing Order 127 where a member, being the chair of a committee, may be asked a question relating to the affairs of the committee.

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (14:45): I thank the member for Sydney, my good friend, for his question, which certainly did surprise me. I thank him for his interest in the issues of public accountability and governance in New South Wales. That is so important. I recognise the entire crossbench, my colleagues who do so much in supporting me. I thank them for that. I am going to name lots of people in my answer because lots of people have actually been involved with the Public Accounts Committee, a committee—by the way, for the interests for the member for Sydney—that was established in 1902. So the Public Accounts Committee has been running continuously for 120 years.

The Public Accounts Committee is an extraordinarily important committee. It may not sound that but, as Mr Speaker knows, its remit is extremely important to the State. For instance, in ensuring oversight and transparency, the COVID pandemic had a huge impact on so many things, including democracy in this House, where the Parliament oversight of the Executive was set to one side. So the Public Accounts Committee put in place a number of measures, including direct contact with the Treasury, hearings from the Treasury to make sure that there was at least a semblance accountability there. The Public Accounts Committee can be fleet of foot if it needs to be. It is not normal for those sorts of things to happen, and hopefully we will never do it again. Indeed, we will not have to do it again because of a constitutional change by the member for Balmain earlier this year, which was also historic. I acknowledge very quickly, the members of the committee who are here today: the deputy chair from the Upper Hunter; the member for Holsworthy; the member for Castle Hill; the member for Monaro; and the great member for Keira. But other Opposition members have served on that committee and taken it seriously. I recognise the member for Maroubra who served with me on that committee for a long time. [Extension of time]

One of the most important things that the Public Accounts Committee can do, and this Parliament in supporting the Public Accounts Committee, is to pay respect to the request of the Auditor-General in seeking the powers it needs to examine the activities of the Government. Earlier this year we had handed down through our remit the statutory quadrennial review of the Audit Office of New South Wales by O'Connor Marsden. Yesterday that was referenced here in Parliament with the introduction of the Government Sector Audit and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 by the member for North Shore on behalf of Treasurer Matt Kean. I recognise the attempts of the Government to do what it can to implement the recommendations of the O'Connor Marsden report, and the most important recommendation was the follow the dollar powers.

I recognise that Mr Speaker was a former chair of the Public Accounts Committee. In all that time we have been fighting to get follow the dollar powers for the Auditor-General. That is one of the most important things we can do to support that office. That is now going to be delivered by the Government, along with a number of other matters, including access to Cabinet documents. That is a very big step for any government—whether it is this Government or a Labor Government, it does not matter. This is about giving the powers to examine the finances to the Auditor-General. The rolled gold seal of the Auditor-General in New South Wales. Whoever is in power next year, look after the Public Accounts Committee. Look after the Auditor-General. Thank you.

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