THE federal Auditor-General has challenged the reasons given for his removal as the scrutineer of taxpayer-funded advertising as it emerged he was never given the chance to argue his case.Ian McPhee also slammed the guidelines governing taxpayer-funded advertising as a softening of standards.”[It] gives additional latitude to a government in mounting a campaign,” he said. He would not be happy administering the guidelines, he said. ”I do not want my role associated with guidelines that give the impression of integrity and strength but in reality don’t have it.”Mr McPhee levelled his charges yesterday as Allan Hawke, who recommended his removal and then took over the advertising vetting role, admitted he had erred by not consulting Mr McPhee.”In retrospect I might have got that wrong,” he said.Mr McPhee and Dr Hawke appeared separately yesterday before Parliament’s joint public accounts and audit committee.The inquiry was convened after the government bypassed its own guidelines to rush out a $38 million taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to support its resources super profits tax.Until March the Auditor-General vetted government advertising to ensure it was non-political. After a review by Dr Hawke, the Auditor-General’s vetting role was given to a three-member panel led by Dr Hawke.Dr Hawke, a former senior public servant who is paid $175,000 a year for the part-time role of scrutinising ads, said that when preparing his report for the government, he had ”no inclination I would end up chairing the committee”.His report recommended the Auditor-General be replaced because his involvement undermined the accountability of departmental secretaries in managing their departments. He found ”the Auditor-General is placed in an invidious position whereby he can countermand cabinet’s decision”.At the time of the report, the opposition agreed with the findings and supported the government’s decision to replace the Auditor-General.But Liberal members of the parliamentary committee were critical yesterday as they grilled Mr McPhee and Dr Hawke.Mr McPhee said while there were ”risks” for his office in vetting the commercials, he disputed the reasons Dr Hawke gave. He said Dr Hawke had never consulted him with these concerns during the preparation of the report.Challenged by the Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, Dr Hawke admitted he had erred. ”I didn’t do it. I didn’t feel the need to. I had come to my conclusions.”However, Dr Hawke said he told the Special Minister of State, Joe Ludwig, what his findings would be before the report was finished. Senator Ludwig administers the guidelines and exempted the mining commercials.It was revealed last night Senator Ludwig kept the exemption secret from his own department until the conclusion of Senate estimates hearings last month.
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