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Friday, 7 May 1920

Mr TUDOR (Yarra) .- As the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) has stated here on more than one occasion, we have made the AuditorGeneral, to a certain extent, but, after all, only to a certain extent, independent of the Ministry, and the Ministry have refused to give him sufficient assistance to carry out his duties. The Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has informed us that the Bill is introduced only to regularize the work which is going on ; but this is the first opportunity we have had of seeing it, and we have had no opportunity to compare it with the principal Act. Clause 4, for instance, alters section 34 of the principal Act entirely. I do not think we should rush an important measure like this through. It has been on the table for only about ten minutes, and in that time I have been trying to compare it with the existing law.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The Bill was circulated on the 19th March.

Mr TUDOR - Then I have not seen it before. It may have been circulated with a lot of other public documents that come to us, and I have missed it. Many documents reach us which we have no opportunity to go through as we should like. One of the reasons why we have to amend so much of our legislation is that we have not had an opportunity in this Parliament of considering it properly. The Acting T reasurer told me across the table before he moved the second reading that he did not think I would understand the Bill when I saw it. That may have been jocularly meant; but I candidly admit that I cannot understand it without having an opportunity to compare it with the principal Act. I thought the Government intended to follow the practice of printing the Act and the Bill together in such a way as to show the proposed alterations in black or 'erased type. Perhaps, as this is only a two-page Bill, and the principal Act is a very large measure, there may have been difficulties in the way of adopting that course ; but the Government should at least furnish us with some such explanation of the extent to which the Bill amends the present law.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I will do that for you.

Mr TUDOR - If, as the Minister says, the object of the Bill is to regularize and make operative the procedure which is in operation to-day, we must have been flouting the Audit Act to that extent.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - In one or two cases, and very properly, as in the wages case.

Mr TUDOR - It may have been done very properly, as the honorable gentleman suggests; but when we do it we should know it. It is quite possible that it was an advantage to the Commonwealth to keep in the Treasury the gold reserve required under the Australian Notes Act. Some of our Acts provide that payments in certain Departments must be made in cash and not by cheque. I think the Customs Department refuses to accept anything but a certified cheque, and rightly so. It would never do to accept the cheques of some people as payment for duty, although I have no doubt the Customs Department would be very keen in chasing up the drawers of the cheques to get the money. I think we provide in the Customs Act that the payment must be by bank cheque. Perhaps we should have regularized the keeping of the gold reserve in the Treasury at the time the Commonwealth Notes Act was passed. I urge the Acting Treasurer to give the House an opportunity of considering how far this Bill amends the Audit Act. If he is not very keen on getting the Bill passed to-day, I ask him to consent to an adjournment of the debate. As the practice which is to be amended has in some cases been followed for a number of years, I cannot see that there is any very great urgency in the Bill. We ought to have an opportunity of carefully studying its effect.

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