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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) .- I feel, concerned about the present procedure..! direct the attention of the Minister to Division No. 771, sub-division 2, and to the indefinite description "Administrative and Operational Expenses, £3,884,400 ". The report of the Auditor-General does not disclose that he has given a certificate to show that he has examined that appropriation from the point of view of economy of expenditure. We do not know the ambit of that proposed expenditure. I suppose that the Auditor-General's officers have audited that figure from the standpoint of propriety of expenditure; that is to say, that the expenditure has been in conformity with Parliamentary appropriations. But what is this item all about? I submit that departmental estimates submitted to Parliament simply misguide us unless they contain a reasonable amount of detail. I would expect a sub-division of that sort to be broken into at least 20 different categories before it could be intelligently appreciated.

I come to Division No. 777, Central Transport and Storage Authority - furniture removals and storage. Although Senator Cant included this division in the matters on which he spoke, it was an entry which engaged my attention first because it appears as a new item. I understood the Minister to say that this is because of some different basis of accounting. Can we have some comparison between this figure and what has been taken from the various departmental estimates in previous years? When I am told that this appropriation includes the expenses of furniture removal and storage, I take it that this relates to the furniture of officers. But I am told that it relates to officers other than those in the trading departments such as the Railways and Post Office. How does it compare with past expenditure and, specifically, does it include the furniture removal expenses of the officers of the Department of External Affairs? 1 have seen from time to time in Commonwealth Public Service documents huge items of expenditure incurred in connection with furniture removals and I have a suspicious feeling that there is not much of a watch kept on this matter. I would like the Minister to concern himself with that point of view. I know that we built the Public Service up on the basis that each officer is entitled under a certain regulation to claim promotion to another post. Public servants transfer from Darwin to Canberra, or Darwin to Hobart, over long distances although the shade of difference in status and salary may 'be no more than £300 a year. It does seem to me that, in this branch of the Department's activities, a great deal of expense is incurred that is not warranted. I put the proposition to the Minister in that form because I think he owes it to the Committee to say what scrutiny is made of this class of expenditure in order to ensure that economy is practised.

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