The federal government’s coronavirus response, including its $300 billion stimulus spend, is to come under scrutiny from the national audit office.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has confirmed it will begin an audit program of the government response to COVID-19.
The auditor-general will also conduct regular assurance reviews of the $40 billion advance provided by the parliament and table monthly assurance reviews.
The government has already spent more than $300 billion in its response to the pandemic.
Labor’s spokeswoman on finance and the public service Katy Gallagher requested the audit last month, saying vast amounts of expenditure had been expedited through parliament and the finance minister had been given a $40 billion advance, almost 20 times the amount provided in normal appropriations.
As well, the social services minister had been handed an “unprecedented” ability to modify aspects of social security law until the end of the year, Senator Gallagher said.
“Due to the unprecedented amount of taxpayer funds proposed to be expended over the next two financial years, along with the novel arrangements and extra powers being provided to ministers over coming months, Labor believes there are good reasons for you to audit the implementation and ongoing performance of the Australian Government’s economic response to COVID-19,” she wrote in a letter to Auditor General Grant Hehir dated March 31.
Audit program being developed
In his reply to senator Gallagher on April 23, Mr Hehir said work was underway to develop an audit program of the government’s COVID-19 response.
“The audit program will focus on providing Parliament with transparency and assurance on management of the response,” Mr Hehir said.
Mr Hehir said he didn’t believe the additional powers granted to the social services minister lent themselves to the ANAO’s audit and review functions and said this was something that could be looked at by the COVID-19 Senate Select Committee.
“However, a future audit of the effectiveness of programs or activities undertaken by the government in response to COVID-19 could consider the quality of evidence developed within the public sector to inform the Minister’s decisions in this area,” he said.
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