The Government has been caught out by labour shortages caused by its own border policy after the Auditor-General, the independent Parliamentary auditor of public sector accounts, said it couldn't get enough staff through the border to complete all its annual audits on time.
The Government was forced to pass legislation today under urgency to give the Auditor-General an extra two months to finish its annual audits. National and ACT are using the legislation as an opportunity to call the Government out for giving itself special treatment while blocking private organisations from using MIQ vacancies to bring additional workers through the border.
National's shadow treasurer Andrew Bayly told Parliament that it is unfair for the Government to give public sector auditors extra time because of labour shortages, when other sectors of the economy do not get the same treatment.
"Businesses don't have the luxury of changing the law—they don't have the luxury of changing the law. We don't have vineyards who can legislate that vines don't need pruning," he said.
"We are not in a position for legislation to be passed that cows have got to milk themselves."
Every year nearly 3000 public sector organisations from schools to councils are audited by the Auditor-General, an independent parliamentary watchdog whose job is to make sure that the various parts of central and local government are spending money lawfully.
This year, the Auditor-General complained that a lack of auditors in Australia and New Zealand, and the closed border meant it would not be able to complete audits on time for their June 30 deadline.
The Auditor-General said it would usually bring in auditors from overseas to help it get through the glut of audits at this time of the year, but the closed border made this impossible. The office said that there are 1000 vacancies in the auditor profession in Australia and 200 vacancies in New Zealand.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Auditor-General asked the Government to pass legislation to give it an extra two months to complete audits that would be due on June 30. The legislation is temporary and will only apply to the financial year just finished and the next financial year.
Robertson said the Government was not just helping out its own auditors, noting that the Financial Markets Authority had also decided to give some private businesses an extension on their own reporting timeframes.
"The bill recognises and addresses these issues by providing extensions to the annual reporting and audit time frames so that the audits can be spread out over a slightly longer period, ensuring a robust assurance and audit opinion to support continued public accountability."
ACT and National have taken different positions on the bill. ACT leader David Seymour said it was unfair the private sector was not also getting relief like the public sector.
"What is the remedy for everybody else who is facing exactly the same problem?" Seymour said.
"What about Olaf the baker in Mount Eden Village?
"He's across the road from Frasers, the iconic cafe — it's got a sign on the door saying, 'We don't open on Mondays because we can't get enough people'. Are they going to get a law passed to make their lives easier?"
Seymour said that the Auditor-General needed an extension because there were "so many screw-ups and, in many cases, downright dodgy activities happening with the expenditure of public money under this Government".
As debate continued under urgency on Thursday morning, National's Barbara Kuriger moved to amend the bill to extend the apple picking industry in solidarity with other businesses who do not have the luxury of extending reporting timeframes.
The amendment would have amended the bill so that all local governments, where able "should ask that Apples [SIC] stay ripe for picking for an extra 3 months".
The amendment was ruled out of order.