Motion - Public Accounts Committee review into Auditor General's report for Event Funding
Tuesday 23 August 2022, Motion
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -
That the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Public Accounts Review of Auditor-General's Report No. 4 of 2016-17: Event Funding be considered and noted.
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the chair of the Public Accounts Committee for discussing this review today.
In the past two and a half years, the central place of events and events funding in Tasmania's economy have been brought into sharp focus. The public funds that go towards some of our events so our regions can have a share of some of the tourism dollars that get brought to the state to promote all the unique culture, and environment and food and drink, have been essential to getting the state back on its feet. It will continue to be important as we grow our economy and as people regain the confidence to travel within the state, visit from the mainland or visit from an international destination.
Therefore, this PAC review into the Auditor-General's report on event funding, although it predates COVID-19 pandemic, will be an important document to justify ongoing funding of events in Tasmania.
In the words of the report:
Tasmanian Government departments contribute funding to more than 100 events annually, at an estimated cost of $10.0 million.
There are often good economic and non‑economic reasons why a government provide support for a special event. Special events increase the opportunities for new expenditure within a host region by attracting visitors to the region. They have the capacity to stimulate business activity, creating income and jobs in the short term and generate increased visitation and related investment in the longer term. Sponsorship by governments of special events, even when they are run at a financial loss, is often justified by the claim that the events produce economic benefits for the region in which they are hosted, or the state as a whole.
It perhaps was as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that we came to understand just how essential things like special events are to the state's balance sheet, and how much our regional locations and business operators rely on them year to year.
As we return to a position where we live with the COVID-19 virus, we can look to this review and the report it is based on, to ensure that in the longer term, events funding provided through public money is done responsibly, and that we have tangible benchmarks by which we can measure their success.
Among the recommendations, the Auditor-General's report included the recommendation that all documentation relating to event funding decisions be retained. I am unsure what might have happened in the past; however, it would be important for the purposes of transparency, accountability and risk management. While it may sound simple in theory, data collection and management are very difficult to carry out in practice. Consistency is extremely difficult to manage as departments, and the people who work within them, tend to have different ideas about what information is retained and in what form.
I note in the PAC review it was found the Department of State Growth had established a whole‑of‑agency grants management system and a whole‑of‑agency grants management framework, which, I agree, is the responsible thing to do. I am curious as to how other levels of government such as our local councils might manage their grant systems, and whether there can be any scaled down version of the State Growth grants management system that could be applied to local government systems. But that would be a conversation for another day. I also wonder whether there will be any follow‑up as to how effective the State Growth grants management system and framework are.
I was pleased to see that the PAC found there were now clearer links between government policy and decisions being made at departmental level; that the department had adopted more rigorous process in evaluating the management of events prior to funding, including the requirement for an establishment report. There absolutely needs to be clear links between funding assessment criteria and public policy, which has been developed to promote Tasmanian events.
To this end, the department's use of the T21 Visitor Economy Action Plan, and before that, the Events Strategy, gives me confidence that events which do receive funding, do so because they align with policy developed in consultation with the Tasmanian public and with stakeholders who manage, or benefit from, special events held in our state. This, in turn, promotes accountability and transparency in decision‑making processes.
The Auditor-General's recommendation is also a very reasonable suggestion that quantitated assessment, preferably as a cost‑benefit analysis, be performed where possible prior to agreeing to funds.
I note the PAC review found that the department assesses the financial return on investment of events, but that a greater focus is placed on policy objectives as articulated in things like the Events Strategy, or Visitor Economy Action Plan.
While having something like a cost-benefit analysis is helpful in decision-making and justification, it is important to contextualise events funding into the bigger picture. Keep in mind that as stated by the Auditor-General's report, even when events are run at a financial loss, they can be justified by the claim that events produce economic benefits for the region in which they are hosted or the state as a whole.
They are quantitative, intangible benefits to holding and funding events which go beyond a mere financial calculation. Finally, the Auditor-General's recommendation that extra reports for funded events be routinely compared with the information used to make funding decisions is also very reasonable. It is important to make sure that what was funded was actually what was delivered and for ongoing funding of certain events, what can be expected in subsequent years.
Again, this speaks to risk management and dovetails back into the first recommendation of the Auditor-General, that all documentation relating to event funding decisions be retained. I thank the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee for discussing this review and believe it will remain the important document for events in coming years.