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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr FADDEN (Darling Downs) (Leaderof the Australian Country party) . - In view of the approaching referendum I wish to draw attention to certain unsatisfactory features connected with the 1944 referendum, in an endeavour to avoid a recurrence of them. The Audit Act is a statute of this Parliament, and no Minister, whether he is the Minister for Information or the Prime Minister and Treasurer, is exempt from its provisions. Section 31 of the Audit Act reads -

No money shall be drawn from the Commonwealth Public -Account except in the manner provided by this Act".

Section 41 is as follows: -

The Auditor-General shall audit the returns, cash sheet statements, accountable receipts, accounts and receipts received by him, and shall -

(a)   ascertain whether the moneys shown therein to have been disbursed were legally available, for, and applicable to, the service or purpose to which they have been applied or charged; and

(b)   ascertain whether the provisions of the Constitution and of this and any other Act and the regulations relating to public moneys have been in all respects complied with ".

In accordance with his statutory duties as laid down in the Audit Act, the Auditor-General said this in his report for 1943-44:-


An expenditure of £5,256 was charged to Division 164c, Item 2 - Post-war Educational Campaign - and from the information available was incurred in informing the electors of the affirmative case for constitutional amendments embodied in the referendum. Correspondence has taken place with the Treasurer regarding this expenditure and also the expenditure of £43,050 to the end of January in the present financial year.

In the examination of expenditure accounts the Auditor-General is required by the provisions of the Audit Act to " ascertain whether the moneys shown therein to have been disbursed were legally available for and applicable to the service or purpose to which they have been applied or charged ". The opinion was expressed to the Treasurer that the vote under notice (Division 164c, item 2, in 1943-44 and Division 1 97c, item 1, in 1944-45 - Post-war Educational Campaign) is not clearly related to the purpose for which it hasbeen used and was not legally available, and applicable, to meet the expenditure referred to. Supplementary appropriation was therefore considered necessary under a clearer and unquestionable description.

In. a reply from the Treasurer the view was given that for reasons stated " the amount involved has, in accordance with section 83 of the Constitution, been drawn under appropriation made by law ".

The following is an extract from my reply to the Treasurer: - " The views held by me ... . are that the factors mentioned by you, viz. : -

(a)   that the whole of this expenditure had been incurred by direction of the Treasurer;

(b)   Minister's explanation to the House;

(c)   presentation to Parliament of a statement of expenditure;

(d)   the parliamentary debate; do not in themselves constitute an appropriation by Parliament and make moneys available, and applicable, for the purpose in question. I regret therefore I am unable to accept that sufficient parliamentary authority exists to charge the appropriation for postwar educational campaign with expenses relating to the referendum.

In view of these statements by a most responsible and capable officer, I should like to point out two. more sections of Commonwealth acts which put a more serious aspect on these matters.

Section 63 of the Audit Act says - (1.) Any accounting officer or person subject to the provisions of this Act who -

(a)   misapplies or improperly disposes of or makes use of otherwise than is provided by this Act or the regulations any public moneys of stores which come into his possession or control shall be deemed to have fraudulently converted such moneys or stores to his own private use and shall be guilty of an indictable offence, and shall be liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any period not exceeding five years.

Finally, there is section86 of the Crimes

Act, as follows : -

Any person who conspires with any other person -

(a)   to commit any offence against the law of the Commonwealth, or

(b)   to prevent or defeat the execution or enforcement of any Commonwealth . Act or any regulation thereunder, or

(c)   to effect any purpose which is unlawful under the law of the Commonwealth, or

(d)   to effect any lawful purpose by any means which are unlawful under the law of the Commonwealth, or

(e)   to defraud the Commonwealth shall be guilty of an indictable offence.

Penalty: Imprisonment for three years. "Whilst there may have been a defence against criminal liability in connexion with expenditure on the last referendum, I submit that the position with respect to the impending referendum is somewhat different. We now have the Auditor-General's opinion that the moneys were not legally available for the purpose to which they were applied. No one is more qualified to make such a statement the Auditor-General. A repetition of such expenditure in a similar manner later this year is liable to have serious consequences for those concerned, whether they be Ministers or public servants, and I ask the Prime Minister for an assurance that he will instruct both his Ministers and the heads of departments to that effect. I am pleased to see the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) at the table, because I know that he will be seised of the importance of this matter and will make sure that both the Government and its officers shall be made conversant with their responsibilities in handling public funds.

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