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Thursday, 22 October 1964

Senator MORRIS (Queensland) . - I want to make one or two comments on Division No. 771, sub-division 2 - Administrative and Operational Expenses. I can see quite clearly the problem which is troubling Senator Wright. We have to authorise the expenditure, but we cannot examine the detail of it to satisfy ourselves that it is correct. Naturally, there is some concern in the minds of honorable senators when this sort of thing happens. On the other hand, I can see the problem which faces the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson). This Department, in part, deals with security matters, and it is impossible to detail the expenditure for classification reasons. Also, the Minister only represents the Minister for Supply (Mr. Fairhall), so it is difficult for him to give details.

I have listened to the debate with considerable interest because of previous experience in listening to the analysis of various estimates in other places. I have in mind the thought and the comfort, if I might use that word, that the Public Accounts Committee scrutinises in detail a great deal, if not all, of this expenditure. I am a little too inexperienced to know how the Committee operates, but I have drawn a great deal of comfort from the belief that these matters, in fact, pass through its hands. I do not expect that the Auditor-General could give us an answer as to whether or not the money is being wisely spent. He certainly could give an opinion on whether the accounting procedure is correct. From' a practical point of view, I think that is what he does. Undoubtedly, he could not say: " This Department has spent £3.8 million. I certify that these accounts are correct, and I also certify that the Department is being conducted economically". He cannot do that because ft is completely outside his field. So we have a problem - a big problem, an understandable problem. I have always believed - I may be wrong but I do not think that I am - that in the final analysis the Public Accounts Committee is the watchdog in these matters.

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