Financial watchdog would get better access to SA cabinet documents under proposed law change


South Australia’s independent financial watchdog would be given better access to cabinet documents under new laws being introduced to state parliament by the opposition.

Last month, Auditor-General Andrew Richardson revealed his request to see cabinet documents linked to $133 million in local sport and community infrastructure grants had been rejected by the South Australian government.

Under the proposed law changes, Opposition Leader David Speirs said the government of the day would not be able to knock back such requests and the measures would be retrospective.

“It’s increasingly the standard that is being set for the level of scrutiny and independent scrutiny of government decision-making and cabinet decision-making,” Mr Speirs said.

In October, the West Australian government introduced similar legislation to its parliament.

When asked in a parliamentary hearing last week if South Australia should follow suit, Mr Richardson replied “yes”.

“There shouldn’t be anything to hide here. This will increase transparency,” Mr Speirs said.

“But importantly it will increase community confidence that government is relying on the right evidence and following the right principles and processes in order to make robust decision.”

A man wearing a suit and tie speaks in front of an SA government banner
Opposition Leader David Speirs says there should be nothing to hide. (ABC News)

With the existing process, it is up to the premier to provide final sign-off on any requests by the auditor-general to see current cabinet documents.

When previously asked why he has denied Mr Richardson the ability to see files, Premier Peter Malinauskas cited cabinet confidentiality as the reason, adding it was a principle “we think is worthy of preservation”.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Tom Koutsantonis did not think there was scope for the laws to be changed.

“The Westminster system relies on a cabinet being elected being able to have its deliberations for cabinet members only,” he said today.

“They [the Liberals] were in government for four years. And when they were in office for four years, just six months ago, they didn’t make these legal changes.”

In his annual report, Mr Richardson found decisions about the two grant schemes were made outside the public sector framework and that there were no government records which capture the assessment processes used to determine recipients or the value of the grants.

A sign for the SA Office of Recreation, Sport and Racing stands outside a building
SA’s Office of Recreation, Sport and Racing says it has not assessed the $84 million in grants for sports club upgrades allocated in the state budget.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

In June, ABC News first reported how the new Labor government used grants in the state budget to pay for $84.4 million worth of upgrades promised ahead of the state election.

The vast majority of the funds went to projects in electorates Labor held or was targeting at the March election, which gave rise to accusations of pork-barrelling and questions about potential conflict of interest.

The government department which usually assesses such grants was also bypassed after Labor took office.

Support needed from crossbench

The opposition reform bill has been introduced to the Legislative Council, where the Liberals needs crossbench support for it to pass.

Greens MLC Robert Simms said it was “very concerning” the auditor-general had been refused access to the documents.

“The Greens will be looking closely at what the opposition is proposing here,” Mr Simms said.

“More transparency is always a good thing. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

A man with light stubble and short hair
Greens MLC Robert Simms says more transparency is a good thing.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

ABC News understand SA Best has yet to be briefed about the bill.

Even if the opposition can find a way for the bill to clear the upper house, it is unlikely it could get through the House of Assembly, where the government has a comfortable majority.

In evidence to a parliamentary hearing, Mr Richardson said he had requested 178 cabinet documents under the term of the former government.

A total of 154 documents were received in full, while he was denied or did not receive another 24.

His requests for seven documents from the current government have all been rejected.



Read More: Financial watchdog would get better access to SA cabinet documents under proposed law change

2022-11-15 22:47:10

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