Public Accounts Committee

21st August 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (12:46): As Chair  I am proud to contribute to the take-note debate on the wonderful History of the Public Accounts Committee 1902 – 2018, which I am sure every member in this House would have read.

Mr Stephen Bromhead: Absolutely.

Mr GREG PIPER: It makes for compelling reading, particularly for anyone who has been on a public accounts committee. I acknowledge the member for Myall Lakes who was on the committee through the period of history that the report references. The report supplements an earlier report that was tabled in 2003 and has been updated to reflect the work of the committee since then. I am not quite sure when I should mention it but presenting this report from this side of the House is notable. While it is not physically referenced in the report, I have signed the Chairman's foreword in the report and, therefore, it forms a part of that history. I acknowledge the Premier and the Government for having the courage to appoint a non-government member—not an Independent—as Chairman of this most significant committee.

Ms Gabrielle Upton: It is a measure of the talent.

Mr GREG PIPER: I thank the member for Vaucluse. The New South Wales Public Accounts Committee is the longest continually operating public accounts committee in Australia, having been established in 1902. That is a significant milestone. The report says that there was an earlier established public accounts committee in the Victorian Parliament in 1895 but it was disbanded in 1932, ostensibly due to the Depression, and not reconstituted until 1955. To have that continuous oversight of a public accounts committee is no small feat. In the first 80 years of its existence the committee's main role was to examine the public accounts and, in particular, the reason for expenditure beyond the level appropriated by Parliament.

I understand that it did that for all figures, large and small. I imagine it would have been quite an excruciating process because it did not have the modern facilities available in the Parliament now. The 1980s saw the committee's revitalisation as part of the fundamental changes to financial management of the public sector and the committee's powers were expanded. It was able to initiate its own inquiries. Importantly, it was also given the support of a permanent secretariat, rather than relying on part-time clerks and information supplied by Treasury. Make no mistake, since that time the Public Accounts Committee has been a significant player in the probity of the Parliament. In its new guise, the committee undertook a number of inquiries into accountability arrangements with departments and statutory bodies. The committee's work led to immediate improvements in annual reporting requirements, as well as the introduction of accrual accounting in the New South Wales public sector. It is important to point out the role the committee's relationship with the Auditor?General has played through its history. I think members would agree that the Auditor-General is a very important part of the oversight provisions of the public sector and the Executive Government. We have a very constructive and interesting relationship because it is at arm's length. The Public Accounts Committee is not there to influence, rather to assist the Auditor- General to do her work.

Over this last period, the committee has had a very good working relationship with Auditor-General Margaret Crawford, as we have had with previous auditors-general. I acknowledge the staff who make it possible for us to do our work. I notice that the member for North Shore, a member of the committee, is in the Chamber. I imagine she will contribute. We all benefit from the wonderful assistance and expertise of the parliamentary committee staff. I acknowledge Elaine Schofield in that role. I also particularly acknowledge the secretary, Mr Bjarne Nordin, who guided and supported the committee for a long time. With that, I complete my contribution. I commend theHistory of the Public Accounts Committee: 1902?2018 to the House. I thank the Premier and the Government for their faith in allowing me to be appointed as chair of the committee.

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