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Thursday, 9 December 1965

Mr SPEAKER - There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr CLEAVER - The Seventy-sixth Report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts relates to a Treasury minute arising from your Committee's Sixty-sixth Report which dealt with expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the year 1962-63. Over the years, your Committee has made a practice of submitting Treasury minutes to the Parliament, either as part of subject reports going forward in the normal process or, particularly in more recent years, in reports relating specifically to groups of Treasury minutes. However, the Treasury Minute relating to the Sixtyfourth Report contains an expression by the Department of the Treasury of important principles affecting the financial responsibilities of the Executive and the Parliament and for this reason we believe that its significance extends beyond the scope of your Committee's Sixty-fourth Report and should be reported upon separately.

Your Committee desires to invite particular attention to the re-enunciation of fundamental principles relating to the formulation of estimates of expenditure as set out under the general heading in the Treasury minute. This statement is consistent with your Committee's observations relating to estimating procedures in its Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth Reports which were presented to the Parliament yesterday, as well as in previous reports which, over the years, have related to inquiries into departmental expenditure.

Your Committee notes the view expressed by the Department of the Treasury that any trend towards conservatism in the original Estimates and towards the encouragement of the use of additional Estimates couud lead to undesirable results. Your Committee accepts without qualification, however, that its responsibility to the Parliament is to strive constantly to refine the estimates which are presented to the Parliament and to achieve the maximum possible degree of realism in respect of the provision of funds. If, in the performance of this task, departments are influenced to exercise more discretion in compiling their initial estimates, your Committee believes that any resultant effects upon financial policy represent the wishes of the Parliament. It believes that, in such circumstances, the Executive would respect those wishes and would make appropriate adjustments to its procedure relating to calculations of expenditure and revenue to provide for any appreciable trend towards a higher demand for funds through the additional Estimates.

The Seventy-seventh Report relates to Treasury regulation 53. This regulation is one of several provisions contained in Part III of the Treasury regulations under the Audit Act, concerned with the ordering of supplies. The regulation enunciates the basic principle of public disclosure of all Com monwealth contracts arranged. Your Committee became aware of differences of interpretation and practice between Commonwealth departments regarding the amount of detail relating to contracts let which they were prepared to disclose to inquirers. Accordingly, after preliminary discussion with representatives of the Department of the Treasury and the Audit Office, your Committee conducted a series of public hearings in May and October 1965 in which the representatives of 16 departments were examined.

The evidence submitted to your Committee showed that, during 1961, the Attorney-General's Department had informed the Treasury that there was an inconsistency between regulation 53 and Treasury instruction 13/28A. In addition, it was learned that there were several unsatisfactory features of the regulation which lead your Committee to the view that proper care had not been exercised in framing it.

Your Committee considers that Treasury regulation 53 and its attendant instructions should be reframed without delay, that in such a process the regulation should specify clearly the details of contracts arranged that are to be included in the Commonwealth " Gazette " and that a uniform method of presentation of such details should be adopted in the relevant ' Gazette " notices. Your Committee considers also that the reframed regulation should provide that the disclosure of unit prices should be confined to disclosure subsequent to gazettal, that provision for subsequent disclosure of details other than unit prices should be provided and that this should be framed in such a way as to permit departments to inform an unsuccessful tenderer of the reasons for the non-acceptance of its tender, in terms of its own insufficiency but not in terms of the merits of the successful tender.

Your Committee further considers that, when reframed regulation 53 should include a provision to exempt departments from the requirement to gazette or disclose details subsequently when it is in the public interest that such details should not be revealed, and that the Department of the Treasury should consult the Department of Works regarding the form in which that Department should be exempted from the necessity to disclose, subsequent to gazettal, details of rates in schedule of rates contracts for works and services. Finally, and more generally, your Committee is of the opinion that the Department of the Treasury, when proposing any amendments to either its regulations or instructions, should first ascertain from the Attorney-General's Department that such amendments will not result in inconsistency between the regulations and the instructions. I commend the reports to honorable members and move that they be printed.

Ordered that the reports be printed.

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