After bringing to light the $100 million 'sports rorts' scandal and the $660 million commuter car park pork barrel, the Auditor General has proposed to investigate eight more federal grants programs worth more than $7 billion.
The government watchdog is also set to examine the remnants of the unlawful robodebt scheme, controversial management of the Murray Darling Basin Plan and a raft of Covid-related programs including the vaccine rollout and the COVIDsafe app.
A new transparency report from the Audit Office will kick off in the coming year, revealing more detail about makeup of public sector boards, as it will also examine the executive pay and bonuses for those running the government's corporate entities such as Australia Post and NBN Co.
While the public-owned companies are required to disclosure their remuneration policies, the watchdog is keen to assess those policies and whether they align with Commonwealth rules and expectations.
It follows the public dressing down of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate in November last year after four executives were gifted Cartier watches for securing a business deal. There is a dispute over whether the board approved the purchase of the watches.
The Audit Office will examine the basis on which performance targets for executives have been set and measured and whether they are set at reasonable levels.
Earlier this year it was revealed NBN Co executives received more than $77 million in bonuses over a period of just five months. A spokesperson for the company said the bonuses were only awarded if certain targets published in the annual report were met at the end of the performance period. The payments were also subject to board approval.
Auditor to examine design of grants programs
Potential rorting of taxpayer funds features heavily in Auditor General Grant Hehir's proposed workplan for the next year, including scrutinising the design of the $1.3 billion Building Better Regions Fund that primarily funded projects in Nationals-held and marginal electorates.
The regional scheme also picked up the tab for urban projects in Liberal-held electorates of senior ministers, such as Peter Dutton and Greg Hunt.
The ALP called the fund "another Morrison government rort" after just a handful of the program's 995 funded projects in its first four years went to safe Labor seats. But former Nationals leader Michael McCormack defended the program's distribution of funds as proportional to regional seat holders.
A third of the projects in the latest round "were chosen by the ministerial panel against the department's recommendations" according to Mr McCormack in a disclosure letter to then finance minister Mathias Cormann required under Commonwealth grant rules.
The Audit Office proposes to look at the fund's guidelines for eligibility, criteria for deciding merit and how the program defines a project as being in regional area.
It also plans to investigate $40 million gifted to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp without a tender, intended to support coverage of under-represented sports. Other media outlets that provide sports coverage were not invited to make a case for the funding.
The audit will examine whether the Communications Department followed Commonwealth rules and whether it put in place required performance indicators to demonstrate that Fox Sports was delivering on the objective of the funding.
The funding received criticism from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who wrote to Auditor General Grant Heir saying Australia already had two public broadcasters who could have received the funding instead.
"In order for taxpayers to watch women's sport on Foxtel they need to pay for a subscription, effectively paying twice," she wrote.
Labor's Michelle Rowland said the most recent $10 million cheque to Fox Sports could instead have gone a long way to supporting sports coverage to which all Australians can see for free.
"It would also go a long way to delivering many of the female change room projects recommended by Sport Australia but rejected by the Morrison government under its now infamous sports rorts scandal."
The largest grants programs to be tackled by Grant Hehir's team of auditors in the next year include the $3.97 billion in grants spent by the National Indigenous Australians Agency, $1.25 billion for state-run health projects, and $526.4 million in funding to small and medium-sized businesses looking to expand their international trade.
International vaccine deals won't stay secret
Billions in taxpayer dollars have been allocated to secure and manage the rollout of vaccines and treatment for COVID-19, but repeated setbacks with supply of vaccines that fit the medical advice has seen the vaccine program's plan overhauled multiple times since the first strategy was released August 2020.
The Auditor General has proposed to examine the effectiveness of the strategy, now run by the National Covid Vaccine Taskforce, given the military-esque moniker Operation Covid Shield and headed by a Army Lieutenant General in John Frewen and supported by a rollout commander in Navy's Commore Eric Young.
The pair met with state and territory representatives to "wargame" the rollout on Tuesday and is scheduled to meet with business leaders on Wednesday to confirm they will also engage in the planning approach intended to identify the barriers through the use of most-likely and worse-case scenarios.
The goal of the vaccine strategy is to ensure public confidence in the rollout and the vaccine itself, ensuring as many Australians are vaccinated as early as possible.
To date, approximately 31 per cent of eligible Australians have received at least one dose of vaccine, while those most vulnerable over the age of 70 are closer to 72 per cent having received at least one dose.
Approximately 9.4 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated, compared with 67 of adult Americans and more than 52 per cent of adult Britons.
Last month the new vaccination allocation horizons were released, outlining the allocations by state and territory. While supplies are expected to increase in September, the horizons revealed that the vaccination rates would have to rapidly increase to ensure all Canberrans were protected by the end of the year.
READ MORE COVID-19 NEWS:
- ACT mask mandate extension likely alongside NSW lockdown
- 'Step up the pace': Disability advocates concerned rollout gap
- Explainer: How would vaccine passports work?
- Covid general conscripts business heads for vaccine 'wargaming'
- ACT businesses warned over low Covid check-in levels
- Canberra GPs booked out weeks in advance as Pfizer rollout begins
The Audit Office has proposed to examine the governance, coordination and management of the program, including the international partnerships and manufacturing deals for the purchase of doses. These have been key contributors to the shortfall of recommended doses that left Australia trailing other developed and developing countries in vaccinating their populations.
The federal government has declined to disclose the content of the deals it has made with vaccine manufacturers, citing national security.
The $645 million mistake that has China laughing at Australia
Another national security concern will also be audited after it was revealed China had purchased data centre in Sydney that was used by the Department of Defence, Home Affairs, the Australian Digital Health Agency, Tax Office and ASIC to hold sensitive data about Australians.
The Chinese buyout of Global Switch Sydney triggered foreign investment restrictions, but Defence's data was safe the department's head Greg Moriarty said.
The hosting company has no access to any sensitive files, he said.
The facility holds about 40 petabytes of data up to secret level classification, and was the primary data repository for several major government bodies.
The Foreign Investment Review Board approved an application to sell to the new owners in 2016, and by September 2019 the government had decided the only way to mitigate the threat to national security was for all government entities to exit completely.
Defence's troubled $44.1 billion frigate program will also face an audit in the next 12 months under the new work program.
This week the government decided to push allow the Hunter class frigate program to run an additional 18 months late because of issues with the design.
The ships were intended to be built at the Osborne shipyard in South Australia and enter service in the late 2020s.
From the top end of town to those struggling for a foothold
The government's program to recover automatically calculated debt accrued by welfare payment recipients was deemed illegal by the High Court. Unofficially named 'robodebt' after generating public backlash, the Services Australia scheme was forced to refund more than 373,000 people that had accrued debts identified by a data matching program using records held by the Australian Tax Office.
The Audit Office is proposing to assess what came next for the debt recovery efforts at the welfare agency after having identified $2.4 billion in debts in 2019-20 before the government announced a temporary six-month national debt pause to help Australians affected by the pandemic. It recovered $1.75 billion over the year.
Separately, the ATO will be audited for its data governance that contributed to people claiming to be being erroneously accrued a debt through the use of that data. The audit will examine the standards of confidentiality, rights to privacy and freedom of information.
Both agencies will face more audits on their administration of key programs to ensure accountability of the public purse, such as the Tax Office's oversight of the top end of town - a group of the wealthiest individuals and business entities that have been repeatedly shown to pay little to no tax through highly effective use of loopholes in tax rules.
The tax receipts gap for individuals is estimated at about $8.3 billion, which the auditors want to examine whether the tax office has the right strategies for selecting cases and enforcement for collecting. The main concerns the tax office have identified are incorrect claims for work and rental property expenses.
Services Australia and the Education Department face audits of their respective administration of the Jobactive network which caters for the long-term unemployed and the Transition to Work program for young people at risk of becoming long-term unemployed, including caseload management by employment services providers and the integrity of the payments those providers receive from government.
The proportion of long-term unemployed increasing from one in eight of unemployed people to one in five since 2010. The government will spend more than $2 billion on Jobactive over the next 12 months, and more than $255 million on Transition to Work.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: