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Who's watching the cash? Not the Premier, nor the Treasury, says auditor's report

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It may take years to learn whether the Palaszczuk Government’s $11 billion pandemic and recession package is successful – or even how much it is costing taxpayers.

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The Auditor-General, Brendan Worrall, today tabled in parliament the first of his planned reports on the Queensland government’s economic response to COVID-19.

While the first report is more of a scene-setter, it shows that neither Queensland Treasury nor the Department of Premier and Cabinet have full oversight of the response – frustrating Worrall’s efforts to add external scrutiny.

This meant the take-up of various business grants and support measures, as well as tax relief, could not be assessed.

Worrall emphasised “it is critical that government-led responses are supported by sound controls to manage any additional risks, and effective governance and leadership must continue”.

“We recognise that government agencies have had to work under extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic, rapidly designing response measures to unprecedented events,” Worrall concluded.

“However, it is critical that the effectiveness of the government’s response is monitored and assessed to determine whether program outcomes have been achieved. This requires fit-for-purpose governance and reporting arrangements at a whole-of-government level.”

Even the Auditor-General was unable to determine whether his own report was accurate. Instead, Worrall sent it to key government departments for review, only for top bureaucrats to reaffirm the somewhat vague state of affairs.

“Short-to-medium term monitoring and evaluation reports on implementation efficiencies, process costs or administration costs are not currently available for all initiatives,” replied the director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Dave Stewart.

“However, central agencies will continue to work with administering agencies to ensure the recovery initiatives are delivered efficiently and effectively, noting that due to external influences and the length of program delivery, it can take many years to gather actual costs.”

Under Treasurer Rachel Hunter said Queensland Treasury was seeking monthly updates from departments, on expenditure, take-up rates and timeframes.

“Given the critical task of supporting the Queensland economy in this unprecedented environment, the Queensland Government’s financial support for the COVID-19 related response measures will continue to evolve,” Hunter told the Auditor-General.

Shortly before the report was tabled in parliament, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was asked about its likely findings and said she hadn’t read it. Palaszczuk reiterated, however, that her Labor Government had sought to keep Queensland safe.

There was no budget this year, and the recent update provided by Treasurer Cameron Dick came at the end of parliamentary sittings and with reduced committee scrutiny.

A parliamentary committee inquiry into the government’s economic response to COVID-19 took submissions, and held public hearings, but may never deliver a report.

The state election will be held on October 31, with Labor and the Liberal National Party both promising a fresh budget if elected.

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