- Auditor General Amendment Bill 2022 introduced into State Parliament
- Proposed laws to improve accountability, transparency and integrity across Government
- Bill provides a clear framework for dealing with the access and use of highly sensitive information by WA's Auditor General
The McGowan Government will provide the Western Australian Auditor General with unprecedented express statutory rights to access highly sensitive Government information as part of reforms boosting public transparency and accountability.
The Auditor General serves a critical role in public integrity, as an independent officer of the Parliament who is responsible for scrutiny of the finances and activities of State and local government entities.
The outcomes of these investigations are reported to the Parliament, giving Western Australians confidence that their Government is serving their best interests.
The reforms, announced today, will overcome long-standing deficiencies in the existing legal framework, which have inhibited successive Auditors General from accessing highly sensitive information, including that which is subject to Cabinet confidentiality, legal professional privilege, and other claims of public interest immunity.
There has been longstanding uncertainty about the Auditor General's ability to access these types of information. In 2015, the then Auditor General, Mr Colin Murphy, identified the need to clarify the legal framework. The lack of clear authority in the Auditor General's information-gathering powers was also noted in 2016 by the Joint Standing Committee on Audit in its Review of the current Act. In 2018, the Langoulant report called for this matter to be addressed as an important issue in public accountability and transparency.
The McGowan Government will enshrine the Auditor General's right to access this information in express statutory provisions, where previously this clarity did not exist. The new laws provide that the confidentiality of the material will be maintained, including by limiting the further public disclosure of material that is privileged or subject to an immunity.
The major enhancements to transparency and accountability include:
- whereas previously Auditors General have been able to access cabinet documents only with the permission of cabinet, a statutory right of access will exist for the first time;
- Government will give the Auditor General access to legal advice - another first; and
- instead of having to physically attend the Department of Premier and Cabinet to view Cabinet documents, this highly sensitive Government information will be made available in an electronically secure form in the Auditor General's office.
Importantly, the Bill ensures that any matters of Parliamentary Privilege remain the remit of Parliament.
Comments attributed to Treasurer Mark McGowan:
"These reforms represent another step by this Government in providing the public assurance that the decisions and actions of Government are accountable, and that public money is spent appropriately.
"These reforms will provide the Auditor General with unprecedented access to a wide range of highly sensitive information, including Cabinet materials.
"They are the latest in a series of improvements to public sector accountability and integrity that the McGowan Government has delivered since coming to office.
"The proposed reforms will empower the Auditor General to further assist Parliament in holding Governments to account, strengthening the trust, transparency, and accountability of Government within the community.
"I thank the Auditor General and her Office for working closely with Government on the development of this legislation."
Comments attributed to Attorney General John Quigley:
"For the first time, the Auditor General in Western Australia will have a statutory right to access the contents of legal advice provided to the Government.
"This legislation will ensure that the confidentiality of materials, including those subject to legal professional privilege, will continue to be maintained.
"The legislation clearly expresses the Auditor General's right to access highly sensitive information to carry out their statutory functions while adopting sufficiently rigorous processes to ensure the material is managed appropriately."
Premier's office - 6552 5000
Attorney General's office - 6552 6800