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Wednesday, 12 May 1920


Mr HIGGS (Capricornia) .- I move -

That the word " July " be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word " January."

My desire is that the Act shall be deemed to have commenced on the 1st day of January, 1916. I submit this amendment because some time ago the AuditorGeneral desired to audit the books and accounts of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company, but was prevented from doing so. I could never ascertain why he was refused permission to audit those accounts, especially as the Government were interested in the company. They had given that company a licence to manufacture wool tops and to sell them conditionally that they received 50 per cent, of the profits. The agreement under which the Government entered into this so-called partnership provided that an auditor should be appointed to audit the accounts of the company. But the Chairman of the Central Wool Committee, which was managing this business on behalf of the Government, decided to appoint, not the AuditorGeneral of the Commonwealth, but an outside auditor.


Mr Richard Foster - Will the honorable member's amendment effect his object, seeing that this company is not a Government concern ?


Mr HIGGS - The honorable member will see that I have given notice of a later amendment, which provides that the Auditor-General shall audit all the books and accounts of offices of the Commonwealth, and that he shall also be permitted to audit the accounts of " any persons, firm, or company carrying on business in which the Government is pecuniarily interested, or from which the Government expect to derive a share of the profits from that business." That amendment I wish to have inserted after clause 8. As I have already explained, the Auditor-General desired to audit the accounts of the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company, and the then Treasurer (Lord Forrest), thought that as the Government were interested in the venture he should be allowed to do so. However, Sir John Higgins, the Chairman ofthe Central Wool Committee, thought otherwise, and would not permit the Auditor-General to audit the company's accounts. That is the position as it exists to-day. In my opinion, the Auditor-General should be empowered to audit those accounts, and had he been able to do so, possibly certain impending litigation would have been avoided. To my mind, the only reason why Sir John Higgins objected to the Auditor-General being permitted to audit the accounts of the company was that he feared any such audit would disclose that Mr. F. W. Hughes had proved himself too clever for the Central Wool Committee.


Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - Do not say that.


Mr HIGGS - I wish that the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) were present, because he was a member of the Central Wool Committee at the time this agreement was entered into, as were also Mr. Falkiner and others. It appears to me that they did not examine closely enough the wording of that agreement. There was a word in it, namely, " amortisation," which, like charity, covers a multitude of profits, if not of "sins."


Mr Tudor - What was the real effect of that word ? Did it allow the company to write down their plant?


Mr HIGGS - The word may mean anything. It may mean the establishment of a sinking fund to pay off debts, or it may cover repairs to machinery, or depreciation. The only reason which I can conceive why Sir John. Higgins objected to the Auditor-General being allowed to audit the company's accounts was that such an audit would disclose that Mr. F. W. Hughes and his company had been able, under the agreement with the Commonwealth, to secure very large profits, and that it would have supported me in my contention that such a valuable concession as was granted to this company should have been submitted to public tender. However, honorable members are familiar with the history of the case, and I shall, therefore, content myself with moving the amendment:


Mr Ryan - Will the honorable member's amendment have the effect of permitting an audit by the Auditor-General to take place?


Mr HIGGS -It will have that effect only when conjoined with the further amendment to clause 8 of which I have given notice.


Mr Fenton - The honorable member desires this legislation to be retrospective ?


Mr HIGGS - That is the object of empowering the Auditor-General to audit the books of the company.







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