South Australia’s independent financial watchdog is said to have greater access to cabinet documents under new laws introduced in state parliament by the opposition.
- Opposition-proposed new laws would give SA’s auditor general greater access to government records
- The auditor general revealed that some requests for documents were rejected last month
- Greens agree there needs to be better transparency
Last month, Auditor General Andrew Richardson revealed his request to see cabinet papers linked to $133 million in grants for local sport and community infrastructure had been rejected by the South Australian government.
Under the proposed legislative changes, Opposition Leader David Speirs said the current government would not be able to refuse such requests and the measures would be retroactive.
“It is increasingly the standard that is being set for the level of independent scrutiny and scrutiny of government decision-making and cabinet decision-making,” Mr. Speirs said.
In October, the Western Australian government introduced similar legislation in its parliament.
When asked at a parliamentary hearing last week whether South Australia should follow suit, Mr Richardson said ‘yes’.
“There shouldn’t be anything to hide here. It will increase transparency,” Mr Speirs said.
“Most importantly, it will increase community confidence that the government is relying on the right evidence and following the right principles and processes in order to make sound decisions.”
With the current process, it is up to the Prime Minister to give final approval to any request from the Auditor General to see current cabinet documents.
When previously asked why he denied Mr Richardson the opportunity to see the records, Prime Minister Peter Malinauskas cited Cabinet confidentiality as the reason, adding that it was a principle “that, in our view, deserves to be preserved”.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister Tom Koutsantonis did not believe it was possible to change the laws.
‘The Westminster system is based on the election of a cabinet which can have its deliberations only for members of the cabinet,’ he said today.
“They [the Liberals] have been in government for four years. And when they were in power for four years, just six months ago, they didn’t make these legal changes.”
In his annual report, Mr. Richardson found that decisions about the two grant programs were made outside of the public sector framework and that there were no government documents that capture the assessment processes used to determine the beneficiaries or the value of the grants.
In June, ABC News first reported how the new Labor government used grants in the state budget to pay for $84.4 million in upgrades promised ahead of the national election.
The vast majority of the funds went to projects in electorates held or targeted by Labor in the March election, prompting accusations of bullshit and questions about a potential conflict of interest.
The government department that usually assesses these grants was also bypassed after Labor took office.
Needed crossbench support
The Opposition Reform Bill has made it to the Legislative Council, where the Liberals need cross-support for it to pass.
Greens MLC Robert Simms said it was “very concerning” that the auditor general was denied access to the documents.
“The Greens will be looking closely at what the opposition is offering here,” Mr Simms said.
“More transparency is always a good thing. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
ABC News understands that SA Best has not yet been notified of the bill.
Even if the opposition can find a way to get the bill passed through the upper house, it is unlikely to make it through the House of Assembly, where the government has a comfortable majority.
In a parliamentary hearing, Mr Richardson said he requested 178 cabinet documents under the previous government.
A total of 154 documents were received in full, while another 24 were refused or not received.
His requests for seven documents from the current government have all been denied.