The Queensland Audit Office (QAO) has the privilege of auditing all Queensland public sector entities and local governments, meaning our work extends well into the state’s regions. These regional areas are home to a unique network of economies and industries and provide essential public services for their communities.
The word audit derives from the Latin word ‘audire,’ which means ‘to hear’. Listening to what our clients need is important to me. Each year, my staff and I visit as many of our remotely based audit clients as we can to grow our understanding of the unique environments they operate in and to build stronger interpersonal connections. QAO staff and our contracted audit service providers (ASPs) work alongside our clients during the yearly audits of entities’ financial statements and during the conduct of our assurance audits.
Most recently, in September 2022, I travelled to the Cape York area in Far North Queensland to meet with 4 councils: Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council, Aurukun Shire Council, Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council, and Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council. I met with mayors, chief executive officers and senior managers. QAO’s Senior Director, Sri Narasimhan, and I flew to Cairns then Weipa, and drove to each council – collectively nearly 1,500 kilometres by road.
This in-person engagement was incredibly valuable. It gave us the chance to see the context of the local areas our clients work and live in, hear their stories first-hand about the opportunities and challenges in their communities and region, as well their success stories and what the future holds.
I see remarkable differences and similarities between each council and township I visit. The public services the respective communities have access to varies greatly. For example, some communities have limited or no access to safety and security services, and others to essential health services 7 days a week. On the face of it, the balance does not always appear right. We certainly cannot group or bundle councils – or any of our more remotely based clients – into a one-size-fits-all approach when delivering our services.
What often strikes me as a key similarity between many of the councils I visit is their passion for improving public services – how committed they are to planning for the future, and how solution-oriented, innovative and optimistic many are in working with often limited financial resources. It is humbling and inspiring.
Receiving feedback on our audit services and building long-term rapport with our clients is crucial to the achievement of our strategy. During these visits, our clients give me an update on how we are performing so we can continue to improve, and adapt our engagement styles to their differing needs. I am often told that they appreciate the effort we make in coming to see them. Most do not receive many Brisbane visitors due to the logistical aspects of travelling to remote locations.
These engagements also give me insights into our current and upcoming audits and reports to parliament, and the audit focus areas outlined in our Forward work plan 2022-25. We prioritise our audit activity to where we believe we can address the most important risks at the right time, and ultimately affect positive change. A new inclusion in my latest forward work plan is a yearly report to parliament called Queensland’s regions. This report will consider how regional areas support economic activity and sustainable communities throughout Queensland. I look forward to tabling this new report and sharing our insights in the coming year.
Of course, the key challenge facing most councils is sustainability. Not solely financial sustainability, but that of a sustainable community. One where local businesses are economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible, and where people have access to basic services, such as education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for the young. Sustainability is a global issue facing all types of organisations. For this reason, this year’s theme for #AuditorProud day on 29 September 2022 reflects on the role auditors play in supporting meaningful sustainability reporting through high-quality assurance frameworks, skills, and training. I am proud to be part of this framework and of the work our profession does.
I try to meet with each QAO client at least once (often more), so I have more client engagement planned in my remaining tenure as Auditor-General. I have met with 62 of our 77 councils since taking on this role, which makes me immensely proud. I look forward to who I will meet soon and what I will see and learn over the coming year.