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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2154

Senator WATSON(3.59) —in reply-The National Gallery, Archives, Library, War Memorial, and the proposed Australian Museum, form the heart of Australia's national heritage. The Senate may recall that in the Public Accounts Committee's earlier report, No. 196, to which the Finance minute in report No. 221 responds, is the finding that the national collection was at a crisis stage as a result of years of neglect and a lack of recognition of its value. Parliamentarians and governments must make sure that resources are available to preserve artifacts, works of art, historical works, and memorabilia for future generations. Although we are a young country we have a great deal to preserve.

The role of education authorities in training people in preservation and restoration work through the course of conservation techniques at the Canberra College of Advanced Education is an important one; but from personal experience, through my role as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, it is not surprising that conservation bodies have problems in keeping good staff. There is still an inadequate appreciation of both the reward and the supply of adequate resources. A recent problem in document preservation is the poor keeping quality of papers that are used. Today's paper decays after a short period compared with the material used some 25 years ago and this quality problem causes particular difficulties for the archives section. The interest that has followed these reports is certainly not before time because the Committee found abundant evidence of the pressing needs facing many items in the national collection. For example, the national ethnographic collection, which is to form part of the Museum of Australia, was found to be held in the basement of the Institute of Anatomy-a non-airconditioned environment with 10,000 items stacked and piled in limited space. However, I believe this is the appropriate opportunity to congratulate particularly the Australian War Memorial on improving its facilities and its corporate strategy and also the Department of Home Affairs and Environment on the co-ordinating measures adopted for Australia 's collection.

This morning I referred to the close working relationship between the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor-General. The origin of this report and its successor was critical comments of the Auditor-General. I believe that the appointment of a non-professional accountant in the form of an economist as the new Auditor-General could well result in future Auditor-General's reports becoming more bland, less incisive and less informative. We could even find in circumstances in which a non-qualified professional person occupied this sort of area that there was a decrease in the morale of the Auditor-General's Office. In fact, I think serious consequences could confront the Auditor-General's Office with the appointment of an economist and not a professional qualified accountant to this office. For example, the Auditor-General is required to give opinions involving technical accounting judgments on some of the largest business undertakings in Australia, opinions which, if they were in respect of private sector concerns, could be given only by a qualified auditor. There is a strong case under the Audit Act for requiring the Auditor-General to be a person qualified for membership of the Australian Society of Accountants or the Australian Institute of Chartered Accountants. The Auditor-General should be the best available person for the job, having regard to his professional training, experience and personal qualities.

Because of the close relationship between the Auditor-General and the Parliament, there is a case for the party leaders to be consulted before a nominee for the appointment is decided upon. A panel of names could be submitted to them and, if they thought it desirable, the leaders could meet each candidate and assess his claims on the basis of a personal discussion. The incisiveness and hence the value of the Auditor-General's reports to this Parliament depend very much on the skills and expertise of the person who is the Auditor-General. With those reservations, I commend the report to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.