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Friday, 7 May 1920

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This is another of those little Bills-

Mr Tudor - You have not yet introduced a Bill which you have not called " a little one."

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - They are little Bills, but they are important, none the less. This is one of those amending measures which go far to relieve the clogged wheels ยป of the departmental machinery that have been going round rather heavily for some years past. The sooner we can get them moving with a little more swiftness, safety, and efficiency, the better. The Bill amends the Audit Act, which was passed in the early days of Federation, and which has been amended from time to time. It embodies further proposals for emendations arising out of recent experiences, recent reports of Royal Commissions, and the necessities of our present situation.

Mr Richard Foster - Doe3 it cover the recommendations of the Federal Capital Royal Commission of three years ago?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I do not remember what that particular recommendation was.

Mr Richard Foster - To define more exactly the Auditor-General's powers.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Yes, it does do so, and it does it also in obedience to a similar recommendation from the Defence Royal Commission. It more clearly defines the Auditor-General's powers, gives him greater discretion as to their use, and removes from him the directional sections of the present Audit Act which " crib, cabin, and confine " him, and, in my judgment, make his audit much more cumbersome and less efficient. We relieve him of all the sections which fetter him now, and say to him, as one should say to any auditor : " Conduct your own audit in your own way, so long as you take care that the moneys which you audit have been voted by Parliament, and see that they are being spent in a constitutional manner." Those are the only two limitations we propose to \ place upon him, ceasing henceforth from giving him directions as to the manner in which he shall conduct his audit. The provisions of the Bill are undoubtedly in the direction of economy and efficiency. Some of them aim merely at regularizing certain practices which have been adopted for some twelve months past. One of these relates to the payment of wages in the Public Service. The Audit Act requires that every person in the Service shall give an individual receipt for his wages - a pure waste of time. We now make it possible for the paymasters themselves to give a binding certificate, as they do in the Navy. I believe that system has also been adopted in the Post Office, obviating all the clerical work, irritation, and bother previously entailed. Another thing we want to rectify i3 this : There is some doubt at present whether we have any right to keep in the Treasury the gold reserve for the Notes Fund. A section of the Audit Act requires that all public moneys shall be paid into a bank. It would seem that a strict conformation to that requirement would demand that all the gold in the Treasury should be put into the control of some bank or other. That is quite out of the question. By this Bill we therefore regularize and justify the keeping of the gold reserve in the Treasury, where we have, perhaps, the best arrangements of any place in Australia for taking care of it. All the clauses are more or less of a machinery character, and, so far as I can see, none of them is contentious.

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