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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) . - I want to retain a spirit of goodwill, but it will be difficult to do so unless there is a little more forthcomingness on the part of the Minister. The Department of Supply is acting as an agent in these matters; it carries out furniture removals and storage for what are called its client departments. That is an expression that attracts my attention. The Minister seems to be satisfied with saying that the Department of Supply has no responsibility for individual items of expenditure. I can understand that, but I hope we are not going to slip into a situation where we are prepared to let the matter go at that. A Minister who asks for the appropriation of money for an item such as this has to justify his request.

If the Department of Supply is not concerned, somebody somewhere down the line must accept responsibility for transferring Joe Blow, say, from Darwin .to Launceston at a cost of £700. I put that proposition to the Minister and I will continue to put it until I am corrected. I want some information. I want to know whether somebody in the Public Service keeps a very close watch to see that great expense is not incurred for the sake of a trivial promotion or to comply with regulations. I think that is a reasonable proposition. The Minister should consider the matter a little more closely from that point of view and let the Committee know what system of administration is adopted.

I referred, just by way of example, to sub-division 2 of Division No. 771 - Administrative and Operation Expenses - for which the appropriation is £3,884,400. It is simply not correct for the Minister to say that the matter is explained by footnote (a) at the bottom of the page.

Senator Anderson - I did not say it was explained by that; I said that was part of the explanation.

Senator WRIGHT - It does not meet the position at all. Frequently commercial balance sheets and profit and loss accounts are criticised because they contain no details. Indefinite and generalised accounting gives rise, not merely to lack of economy, but also to slipshod methods, wanting in integrity and creating loopholes which put temptation in the way of people. It is the indefiniteness of an item such as this - unsupported by the Minister or his officers, even when a request is made - 'that I am criticising. A schedule should be produced covering the matters contained in this item. Unless that is forthcoming, what assurance have we that the appropriation should be £3.8 million or £2.8 million? Not one member of this Committee is able to exercise a judgment in the matter.

Having referred to those matters twice, I should now like to refer to another matter. I notice in the Supplementary Report of the Auditor-General under the heading of " Transport " the following cheerful statement

The net profit on the operations for the year was £222,441 compared with £76,125 in 1962-63.

Departments have become agents for each other. One Department supplies transport for many others, and no doubt debits them with the cost of its services. What sort of accountancy is it that shows such a profit? To speak of a profit on interdepartmental activities might be completely misleading. I think we are each pulling each other's legs.

I do not think it is good enough to note the expenditure unless we are given more detail as to what the £3.8 million consists of, or unless we are told that it will be dissected into the 20 most important items and the information forwarded to honorable senators by letter.

Senator Anderson - I have already indicated to the honorable senator that his comments will be communicated to the Minister. I can do no more than that.

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