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Tuesday, 31 July 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The provision means that we are going to relax both our inspection and our audit. I have yet tolearn that we should copy Great Britain in this particular respect. There is no analogy between the circumstances of a small country like Great Britain and those of the Commonwealth.

Sir John Forrest - A similar provision is contained in the laws of New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That may be so; but my recollection of the New South Wales provision is that the inspection there, and also the audit, were somewhat relaxed because it was felt that the inspections which were taking place all over the country were being duplicated. That position, however, does not apply to the Commonwealth. We have no other officers who can do tins work for us, as the States Governments have. Therefore, it occurs to me that unless we keep the inspectorial staff as efficient as possible we shall not have that proper supervision of accounts which is necessary.

Sir John Forrest - But the clause provides that the Treasurer must agree to dispense with the detailed audit.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I understand that the Treasurer desires this power in order that he may use it. I would point out that the peculations which are constantly going on in the service, despite all our checks, do not argue the wisdom of relaxing our system of inspection and of checks.

Sir John Forrest - The clause provides that there must be circumstances, which render a detailed audit unnecessary.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am referring to the inspection and the audit taken in conjunction. We have already provided for a relaxation in our inspection of these accounts, ari3 now we are asked to sanction a relaxation in the audit - that is to say, in the accounting within the Department, as well as in the inspection without the Department. Our inspection, so far as the Post Office is concerned, is not such as, in my judgment, can be safely relaxed. Certainly it cannot be done without leading to an increase in the peculations which are already going on. I believe that the accounting' of these matters has been very much relaxed in many of the States, and that some of the detailed clerical work with which the Treasurer proposes to dispense is being carried on in a very lax way indeed. Only the other day I was informed that in the Money Order Branch of the Post and Telegraph Department the classification of money-order dockets is two or three months in arrear. I believe that fraud could take place in that Department, without the Department being able to discover it until the whole of that work had been brought up-to-date. That is a very serious matter, I think. Yet, in this Bill', we are asked to dispense still further with the inspection of the individual accounts at the outside offices, and to relax the system of auditing those accounts within the Department itself.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The appropriation audit must be made.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But it is proposed to relax the audit which is intended to act as a check upon the Department.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Only in certain circumstances.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I take it that it is the intention of the Treasurer to put this system into operation, otherwise he would not need the power to do so. It is a power to dispense with the detailed auditing of accounts, and I am not quite sure that we are taking a step in the right direction by following a precedent which affords no parallel to our own circumstances.

Sir John Forrest - The AuditorGeneral is in favour of it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the AuditorGeneral be satisfied, it is all right. But I read clauses 10 and 11 together, and I say that our system of auditing in the Commonwealth has no parallel in that of the United Kingdom.

Sir John Forrest - The AuditorGeneral asked for this power of his own motion, and we provide that it shall be exercised subject to the Treasurer's consent.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the AuditorGeneral reported upon the whole Bill ?

Sir John Forrest - I do not know that he has.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Treasurer must accept the responsibility for this provision. In my opinion, by relaxing our inspection of these accounts, we are taking a step in the wrong direction.

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