Two years on from the Coalition's 2013 election victory, one of the three experts who "independently verified" its campaign costings has been found guilty of breaching auditing standards.
Len Scanlan, a former Queensland auditor general, has been penalised by CPA Australia for failing to uphold professional standards in the work he did for the Coalition.
But in an unusual move reported on the CPA website on May 25 the disciplinary tribunal found there were "exceptional circumstances" involving his work for the Coalition's Joe Hockey and ordered his name not be published.
Mr Scanlan was one of three members of the shadow treasurer's independent review panel. The other two were Geoff Carmody, a former head of Access Economics, and Peter Shergold, a former head of the prime minister's department. Mr Scanlan is the only one who belonged to a professional accounting association, and so the only one subject to sanction.
The panel produced a four-paragraph report released two days before the vote saying it believed the Coalition's costings were "based on fair and reasonable assumptions" and represented "a fair estimate" of their impact on the budget.
It enabled Mr Hockey to claim: "all of our policies are fiscally responsible and independently verified".
But in a complaint to CPA Australia, economist Betty Con Walker and emeritus accounting professor Bob Walker pointed out that the relevant standard requires accountants offering assurance to provide a description of any significant inherent limitations on their findings. One limitation was that the finding was prepared without direct access to Commonwealth records. Another was that several of the Parliamentary Budget Office costings relied on by the panel were themselves described by the office as being of "low to medium reliability"...
The panel itself did not produce a statement of the level of assurance it was prepared to provide for each item costed, as required by the auditing standard, nor did it disclaim responsibility for Coalition's achievement of the results as required by the standard.
The costing endorsed by the panel found the Coalition's program would improve rather than worsen the 2014-15 budget deficit.
Professor Walker and Dr Con Walker's complaint to CPA Australia follows another they made to the Institute of Chartered Accountants after the 2010 election which fined two Perth accountants for breaching professional standards in their work for the Coalition.
The accountants had allowed Mr Hockey to describe their work as an audit which it was not, and to say that they had certified "in law that our numbers are accurate".
A subsequent treasury review found mistakes including double counting amounting to $11 billion.
The CPA Australia disciplinary tribunal decided to impose no monetary penalty on Mr Scanlan in May and instead imposed "the penalty of an admonishment". It "exercised its discretion" to direct that his name not be disclosed.
Mr Scanlan holds the CPA National President's Award and in 2003 he was awarded a Centenary Medal for distinguished service to the public sector.
He told Fairfax Media he did not want to comment on the tribunal's finding.
Professor Walker said it was "hard to think of a more blatant ethical breach than the publication of a defective report on government finances just days before a national election". The primary responsibility of accountants was to act in the public interest.
The Coalition was forced to use an outside panel to cost its 2013 election promises because of a provision inserted in the Parliamentary Budget Office Act by Labor that prevents the office from costing policies confidentially once an election has been called.
It means that Labor will face a similar problem in this election as will any accountant who works for it.In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald