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Friday, 3 September 1920

Mr TUDOR (Yarra) .- The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) gave several days' notice of his intention to move the insertion of this clause when the Bill was before us; but there was not much discussion upon it. The Committee agreed to the insertion of this clause and clauses 4 and 5 after a very short debate.

Mr McWilliams - The Committee unanimously accepted them.

Mr TUDOR - But they were not discussed at length. As to the suggestion made by the honorable member (Mr. McWilliams), that an officer who had been trained in the Audit Office might be transferred to another Department, I do not think that such a transfer is made unless the officer concerned applies for it. One of the most notable cases in point is that of Mr. Whitton, the present Acting Comptroller-General of Customs. Mr. Whitton, who is a very capable officer, was employed in the Audit Department, and, at his own request, was transferred from it to the Department of Trade and Customs. I fail to see how we can make the Audit office a " water-tight " Department. As a matter of fact, the Victorian Government complain that it has been necessary to increase the salaries of State public servants because the Commonwealth is taking away some of its very best men. The Auditor-General's staff should consist of trained specialists. In order that the work of the Department may be effective, the Auditor-General must have an ample staff. Where we are spending many millions of pounds annually, irregularities are sure to occur, and, therefore a careful and expert checking of accounts is necessary.

Mr McWilliams - The AuditorGeneral has complained again and again that his staff is undermanned.

Mr TUDOR - Yes, and we should see to it that there is no longer any ground for that complaint.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - This clause would not cure that trouble.

Mr TUDOR - I do not think it would. We are all agreed that the money spent on the Auditor-General's Department is true economy.

Mr McWilliams - It is in the nature of insurance.

Mr TUDOR - It is. We have some big spending Departments

Mr McWilliams - Does not the hon- . orable member think that the head of the Department should have some voice in the appointment of his own staff?

Mr TUDOR - I do but I do not think that the Public Service Commissioner, or whoever is responsible for appointments to that staff, would select incompetent men.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The members of the Department are not incompetent.

Mr TUDOR - I do not think they are, although, of course, a 4th class clerk would not be expected to be as efficient as a man in the first grade. We have in every Department, officers who stand head and shoulders over their fellows. If the officers of the AuditorGeneral's Department think that the principle for which this clause provides is unwise, I shallfeel inclined to adopt their view. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has promised, however, that when we are dealing with the Public Service Bill we shall have an opportunity, if it is desired, to make an amendment on these lines. We must see to it that the Commonwealth is able to retain the good men who enter its service.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - That is what we are not doing.

Mr TUDOR - That is so. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), in answer to questions put by him in -this House, has been supplied with some interesting figures as to resignations from the Commonwealth Service. Mr. Eastwood, the Deputy Commissioner for Taxation in Victoria - who, I understand from the Treasurer, was receiving about £700 a year - left the Service because he could do better outside. No doubt the services of expert officers of the Department of Taxation and the Department of Trade and Customs are eagerly sought after by large business firms, who find them very helpful in dealing with income tax, land tax. and Customs matters. It may be impossible to retain all of them, but those who have gone into the matter will agree with me that, in view of the number of public servants who have left the Service during the past six months, some steps must be taken to induce valuable officers to remain in the Service. If the officers of the Auditor-General's Department are agreed that the clauses objected to by the Senate would not improve their position, I am prepared to vote for the Senate's amendments.

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