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Thursday, 19 November 1959

Mr BLAND (WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As chairman, I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee -

Forty-third Report - Expenditure from Advance to the Treasurer for the year 1958-59.

This report embodies the results of our inquiries into the operations of what is usually known as the Treasurer's Advance Account. It is an inquiry that the committee pursues year by year because it best reveals, amongst other things, the financial methods by which the various departments supplement their votes. For example, there is revealed the extent to which the departments over-estimate their requirements or under-spend their appropriations.

I can assure the House that, as a result of years of criticism and exhortation on the part of the committee, the estimates of the departments submitted to us on this occasion were, generally, much more accurate than they previously had been.

One matter that has caused the committee concern, however, has been the nature of the follow-up of its recommendations and comments. The House knows, of course, that each report of the committee, having been presented to the Parliament, is sent to the Treasury, which discusses the matters raised in the report with the departments affected. Subsequently, the Treasurer advises us of what he has done and we, in our turn, report that to the Parliament. We will submit a number of these reports to the House next Thursday. But the Treasury's authority in matters of departmental organization is limited and it avoids overlapping the functions of the Public Service Board. Accordingly, from time to time we have suggested that the board, with or without Treasury aid, should see that the departments take notice of our recommendations or comments.

This year we found that a department whose financial methods and controls that we criticized two years ago had not improved to any significant extent. This is the sort of case that we think should be taken over by the organization and methods staff of the Public Service Board to rectify the weaknesses which we mentioned, thus putting the operations of the department on an efficient basis. We were told that the departments generally were short of trained staff capable of doing this financial work. Therefore, it was suggested that the status of the finance and accounting officers of the Public Service might well be raised with a view to attracting suitable staff for this arrears of work that has to be done. If this is to be done, it will probably need a departmental committee to look into the circumstances to which we have drawn attention.

I conclude by saying that this is the sort of report which ought to be a " must " in the reading of all honorable members. I know that members get scores of reports across their desks every day, but I still say that I would prescribe this report as a " must " in their reading. And as they read, I would ask them to do so in the light of the question whether Parliament is abrogating its position and relying on its several committees to do a piece of work which Parliament ought to be doing itself.

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