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Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr BURY (Wentworth) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,in 1957 the Statement of Expenditure from the Advance to the Treasurer replaced what was previously known as the Supplementary Estimates. This action followed the thirty-first report of the Public Accounts Committee, which found that the practice of submitting to the Parliament a Supplementary Estimates measure was legally unnecessary as well as ineffective. The House then agreed with proposals put to it by the Public Accounts Committee that instead of the presentation of Supplementary Estimates and the introduction of supplementary appropriation bills, a statement prepared by the Treasurer should be presented to the House after the end of each financial year showing the heads of expenditure and the amounts charged thereto pursuant to section 36a of the Audit Act. It was also agreed that these statements should be referred for the consideration of the committee of the whole House and that a resolution of the committee be reported to the House for its adoption.

As part of this procedure the Public Accounts Committee undertook to examine each statement of expenditure and present to the Parliament a report. The committee's report on the 1958-59 statement was presented to the House last week as its forty-third report. The Public Accounts Committee has an arrangement with the Department of the Treasury whereby the Treasury obtains from each department concerned an explanation for every item appearing in the Statement of Expenditure. Those explanations are in turn forwarded by the Treasury to the committee for its consideration. The committee has examined all those explanations and pursued further inquiries in respect of some of them. These are reported upon in the forty-third report. In that report the committee has pointed out that as a result of its suggestions the statement itself is substantially smaller this year than in previous years, although the information contained in it has in no way been reduced. On page 7 of the report reasons are given for the under-estimating of the vote " Refunds of Revenue " for which just over £2,000,000 was provided from the Advance to the Treasurer.

In chapter III. under the general heading of " Controlling Expenditure within the Limits of the Appropriation " the committee has deal with a number of amounts met from the advance on behalf of three departments. Those items are included because in its follow-up investigations the committee found that two of the three departments lacked an effective control procedure, while the third did not conform with an important provision of the existing law. One of these departments was the Attorney-General's Department, with whose financial procedures the committee found fault two years ago. The committee found that adequate steps had not been taken to remedy this situation. The committee therefore felt obliged to criticize the Attorney-General's Department and also the Public Service Board for its failure to take proper steps to provide the necessary personnel qualified in finance matters to run that section of the department.

In Chapter V. of its report the committee considers the reasons why an amount of something more than £1,000,000 appears in the statement under Division 194, Item 2. This figure represents the reduction in the amount expected to be recovered from the United Kingdom caused by a substantial under-spending of the provision for buildings, &c, concerned with the United KingdomAustralian joint project in South Australia. The committee also gives the reasons for expenditure from the advance of £288,500 on concessional postage for servicemen and for an item of just over £1,000,000 appearing on page 42 of the statement.

In general terms the balance of expenditure remaining a charge to the advance - -£8,900,000- is little greater than last year when it was £8,600,000. This level is not unreasonably high. The committee did notice a tendency on the part of one department at least to make greater use of the Additional Estimates, a trend which accords with the general principles enunciated by the committee from time to time. Again, the total of the items in the statement - £8,900,000 - does not represent entirely increased expenditure. As explained in paragraph 7 of the committee's report, quite substantial amounts did not represent an increase in overall spending.

I trust, Mr. Timson, that honorable members will be satisfied that the Public Accounts Committee has done a proper job on behalf of the Parliament and has discharged the functions entrusted to it by the Parliament.

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