The Auditor-General received correspondence from Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP dated 3 April 2023, requesting that the Auditor-General conduct an investigation to examine the Community Batteries for Household Solar Program. The Auditor-General responded to the correspondence on 23 May 2023.

Auditor-General's response

23 May 2023

Rebekha Sharkie MP
Member for Mayo
By Email: Rebekha.Sharkie.MP@aph.gov.au

Dear Ms Sharkie

Community Batteries for Households Solar Program

I am writing in response to your letter dated 11 April 2023 requesting that the Auditor-General consider an audit of the Community Batteries for Household Solar grant program.

My office has made preliminary enquiries with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water in relation to the issues you have raised in your letter. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is currently developing its 2023–2024 Annual Audit Work Program (the work program). From our enquiries I will take into consideration the details of your letter in the development of audit topics and criteria as part of this process.

The work program reflects the ANAO’s audit strategy and informs the Parliament, government entities and the public of the planned audit coverage for the Australian Government sector. The 2023–24 AAWP is expected to be published on the ANAO website in early July 2023.

Yours sincerely

Grant Hehir

Correspondence from Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP

Correspondence from Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP. A transcript of the correspondence is located on this page.

Transcript of letter from Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP

RefSC030423

Mr Grant Hehir
Auditor-General
Australian National Audit Office
GPO Box707
Canberra ACT 2601

Dear Mr Hehir

I refer to the Community Batteries for Household Solar Program administered by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

A recent Freedom of information request for details on how the Department had determined location and organisation eligibility criteria for this program found that: "These selections were determined by the Australian Labor Party whilst in opposition, prior to the May 2022 Federal election. The department was not involved in these decisions and therefore has no records or documents which show the criteria applied and processes involved in making and approving the selection of eligible locations and organisations." (A copy of the Freedom of Information response is attached.)

While the Labor Party in opposition made various election commitments concerning the distribution of community battery grants, the fact remains that this program is being implemented in government and is subject to compliance with the Commonwealth Grants Rules and Guidelines (CGRGs) issued under Section lOSC(l)of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (PGPA) Act 2013. Section 71 of the PGPA Act states that ministers must not approve expenditure unless satisfied, after making "reasonable inquiries", that the expenditure would be "proper" (i.e. efficient, effective, economical and ethical).

The absence of relevant records held by the Department calls into question whether the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon Chris Bowen, has been fully compliant with his statutory obligations in relation to this grant program. One would assume that "reasonable inquiries" would include obtaining assessments and advice from the Minister's own department; however it appears that only the political preferences of the Australian Labor Party have been given consideration. There is now concern that the selection of eligible locations and organisations for community batteries will not be skewed by partisan political calculations.

I would be most grateful if you would consider this matter, including making relevant inquiries with the Department, with a view to conducting an Assurance Audit under section 19A(l) of the Auditor­ General Act 1997.

Your sincerely

REBEKHA SHARKIE MP
Federal Member/orMayo

3/4/2023