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Principle FOUR –

Unrestricted access to information

SAIs should have the adequate powers to obtain timely, unfettered, direct and free access to relevant documents and information.

It is expected that:
1.       A SAI has the ability to access relevant documents or information relevant to its work;
2.     A SAI can call persons to produce documents or give evidence orally, in writing or under oath;
3.     A SAI can access premises to examineor make copies of relevant documents; and
4.     Evidence received by a SAI is protected by inappropriate disclosure.

1.     Legislative examples of unrestricted access to information

Power to obtain information etc
14(1) For this Act, the auditor-general may, by written notice, require a person to do any 1 or more of the following:
(a) to give stated information to the auditor-general within a stated reasonable time;
(b) to produce a stated document in the possession or control of the person to the auditor-general within a stated reasonable time;
(c) to attend and answer questions before the auditor-general at a stated reasonable time and place  (
Auditor-General Act 1996 Australian Capital Territory) 

Power of Auditor-General to obtain information
32 (1) The Auditor-General may, by written notice, direct a person to do all or any of the following:
(a) to provide the Auditor-General with any information that the Auditor-General requires;
(b) to attend and give evidence before the Auditor-General or an authorised official;
(c) to produce to the Auditor-General any documents in the custody or under the control of the person
. (Auditor-General Act 1997 Commonwealth of Australia)

Access to information
24 The chief executive and the governing body of a public entity must ensure that the Auditor-General has access at all times to the documents of the entity relating to the performance and exercise of the Auditor-General's functions, duties, and powers.

Power of Auditor-General to obtain information
25(1) For the purposes of exercising or performing the Auditor-General's functions, duties, or powers, the Auditor-General may require a public entity or any person to:
(a) produce to the Auditor-General a document in the entity's or person's custody, care, or control:
(b) provide the Auditor-General with information or an explanation about any information (Public Audit Act 2001 New Zealand) 

Access to records, information etc
36(1) The Auditor-General, an auditor or a person authorised by the Auditor-General:
(a) for the purposes of any inspection or audit authorised or required to be carried out by the Auditor-General pursuant to this Act or any other law in relation to any person, group of persons, body, fund or account, or
(b) for the purpose of exercising any other function conferred or imposed on the Auditor-General pursuant to this Act or any other law, is entitled at all reasonable times to full and free access to the books, records, documents and papers of or relating to the person, group of persons, body, fund or account or relating to public money, other money, public property or other property and may make copies thereof or take extracts therefrom (Public Finance and Audit Act 1983 New South Wales)  

2. Notes

An emerging practical issue is a government requirement that Auditor-General employees must hold appropriate security clearances before they will be allowed access to certain documents.  Related to this, some government departments will not allow certain documents to leave its premises – either physically or electronically. 

It is important that SAIs plan for these issues and ensure that staff have the necessary security clearances before an audit commences.