The position of Auditor-General has existed in Queensland for over 160 years. But did you know, today’s Queensland Audit Office was created 30 years ago? On 1 May 1993, legislative amendments took effect in response to the need for increased accountability and transparency in government. The change was a catalyst for a significant reshape of our office, and in strengthening our independence. On 1 May 2023, we celebrate and recognise our continued progression, and our ability to adapt and evolve over the past 30 years.
The birth of the modern QAO
In May 1987, the Queensland Government announced it would hold an inquiry into allegations of misconduct and corruption involving ministers and members of the Queensland police service. This became known as the ‘Fitzgerald Inquiry’.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry, however, didn’t just investigate the activities of ministers and members of the police service – even the role of the Auditor-General and the audit office was questioned. This led to the establishment of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC) which, among other things, conducted an inquiry into public sector auditing arrangements in Queensland. Both inquiries and their outcomes have played a pivotal role in shaping the subsequent direction of the Queensland Audit Office (QAO).
EARC made 170 recommendations in its report, published in September 1991, the majority relating to the mandate and functions of the Auditor‑General and the administration of the Department of the Auditor-General. The most significant changes aimed to strengthen the Auditor-General’s independence and their relationship with the parliament, recommending that a statutory office of the Auditor-General be created, supported by a new body to be known as the Queensland Audit Office. This was to reflect the unique relationship between the Auditor-General and parliament, and the independence required of the audit function from the executive government.
While the government of the day agreed to rename the office, the new QAO was to remain a department for administrative purposes. On 1 May 1993 the ‘new’ Queensland Audit Office officially replaced the ‘old’ Department of the Auditor-General through amendments to the Financial Administration and Audit Act 1977 – although the term ‘Queensland Audit Office’ had been used unofficially for many years.
More than just a name change
While these legislative amendments provided the office with a new name and some new powers, more was required to embrace the change and move the office forward.
In launching the new QAO, the Auditor-General, Mr Barrie Rollason, wrote to all staff advising of the challenge ahead in moving the new QAO forward, while still respecting its past. In his letter to staff Mr Rollason stated:
There is a saying which goes something like “It’s better to look where you’re going than to see where you’ve been.”
Not everyone would be entirely comfortable with that piece of visionary wisdom and for my part I am extremely conscious of our auditing heritage and the need to ensure that all vital aspects of the heritage are retained within the fabric of the new Queensland Audit Office.
However, to be always looking back to the past and dwelling upon it breeds a certain stagnation and that is unacceptable in this day and age where performance expectations of any organisation whether in the public or private sector are high.
The letter also included a new corporate brochure outlining the plan for QAO’s future called ‘The Performance Edge’. This brochure highlighted how the new QAO would use its unique position in, and understanding of, the Queensland public sector to better serve parliament, public sector clients and the Queensland community going forward.
This change process significantly reshaped the office’s structure and brought about a more modern and professional approach to conducting audits. In reflecting on this period in QAO’s 1994–95 annual report, Mr Rollason noted:
Driving the reform agenda from within the Office was a recognition that the audit service had to ensure it was relevant to the times. In other words, without any loss of its acknowledged strengths and forte in relation to financial and compliance auditing there was a need for the Office to carve for itself a more client focused, advice centred role aimed at assisting auditees, within the bounds of audit independence, to improve upon the procedures to better satisfy the accountability and performance related requirements of the day.
The legacy of the change
While the words written by Mr Rollason are now 30 years old, they are still important. Today’s QAO continues to strive to remain relevant to the times. We are proud of our history but recognise the importance of the need for continued progression.
Over the last 30 years we have kept pace with the expansion of the state and changes in the way entities deliver government services. The office continues to evolve and embrace significant changes in professional accounting and auditing requirements, grow expectations in addressing issues of government transparency and integrity, and encourage the use of technology and innovation.
The nature, size and complexity of QAO’s client base is also continually transforming. At times, QAO’s mandate for auditing public sector entities has been challenged. However, by working closely with key stakeholders and providing valued advice on how entities can improve their delivery of public services for Queenslanders, our client satisfaction levels for our audit clients, audit committee chairs, and members of parliament (MPs) have consistently trended upwards over recent years. By listening to and understanding our stakeholders’ feedback and needs, we inspire interest in and commitment to outcomes from our work. This, in turn, has helped QAO not only maintain its client base, but expand its audit mandate.
Our ability to adapt and evolve over the last 30 years has no doubt been shaped by the hard work and foundations laid under Mr Rollason and his staff in creating the modern QAO back in 1993.
A new era of change and opportunity
While EARC’s recommendations were a key catalyst for the changes that occurred in 1993, the government at the time didn’t accept all its recommendations. Since then, QAO has endeavoured to see the remaining recommendations implemented. Some have been addressed, such as obtaining a full mandate to conduct performance audits in 2011, but others remained outstanding.
Following Professor Coaldrake’s review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector in June 2022, the Queensland Government addressed several of the outstanding recommendations through amendments to the Auditor-General Act 2009. Further amendments to the Act presently being considered are also likely to address some of the remaining EARC recommendations.
Together, these amendments, if implemented, will represent the most significant changes to the modern QAO since it was created on 1 May 1993. On 1 May 2023 we celebrate the achievements and progress of the past 30 years and look forward to the upcoming period of positive change. Most of all, we thank all our staff, clients and stakeholders, past and present, who have accompanied us on this incredible journey.