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Wednesday, 2 June 1926

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Home and Territories) . - I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

Honorable senators will notice that there are two provisions in this bill. With the latter provision I shall deal first because it is the more important -

The Auditor-General for the Commonwealth shall cease to hold office upon attaining the age of sixty-five years.

The Public Service Act fixes the retiring age for public servants. When we consider the onerous duties cast upon the

Auditor-General it is clear that we require for that office a man who is in his prime, and is both mentally and physically active. From that I do not infer that the late Auditor-General did not carry out his duties in a thoroughly satisfactory and honorable manner. We all know that he did. But he was a remarkable nian, endowed, notwithstanding his age, with remarkable physical and mental abilities. It is not the good fortune of every mau to have that same mental and physical alertness at an advanced age. It is, therefore, felt that before another Auditor-General is appointed a retiring age for the office should be fixed. That age the Government considers should be 65 years. I do not propose to labour that point, because I believe that the Senate is in accord with the principle. I need only say that the Auditor-General is not an officer of the Government, but an officer of Parliament; he is responsible to Parliament only. He is the watchdog over the financial transactions of the Government, concerning which he reports to Parliament. He can be removed from office only by a resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. Consideration of those facts should be sufficient to convince any one that for the office of Auditor-General a man of good health and great mental capacity is needed. That fact is made clearer when we remember that the receipts and expenditure of the Commonwealth amount to nearly £120,000,000 per annum. The other provision of this bill is to increase the salary of the office from £1,500 to £12750 per annum. I remind the Senate that when, in 1901, the Auditor-General was appointed under the Audit Act his salary was fixed at £1,000 per annum. To-day it would, take a salary of £2,000 per annum to be equal in purchasing power to the salary fixed for the office in 1901. So important did Parliament regard the position that the late AuditorGeneral, on his appointment in 1901, was practically the highest-paid officer in the Commonwealth Public Service. That state of affairs continued until the Great War, when the cost of living increased enormously. The Auditor-General thereupon made representations to the government of the day, and he was granted an increase in salary by way of an allowance voted annually by Parliament. It is most undesirable that, the Auditor-General should be dependent on an annual vote for a portion of his salary. He shouldbe entirely independent of Parliament. For that reason the Government, in 1924, introduced a measure to increase the salary of the office to £1.500 per annum. That was the salary paid to the late occupant of the office at the time of his death. The existing act provides for a salary of £1,500 per annum for life for the office of Auditor-General . But as we are in this measure amending the term of office to provide that the Auditor-General shall retire at the age of 65 years, it is obvious that unless an increase in the salary is made the new Auditor-General will be in a worse position than was his predecessor. Even with a salary of £1,750 per annum the Auditor-General will not be paid so high a salary as certain other officers of the Public Service. For the heavy responsibility which the Auditor-General of the Commonwealth has to accept a salary of £1,750 per annum cannot be regarded as extravagant. Those are the two provisions of the bill, and they call for no further advocacy on my part. They explain themselves, and are justified by circumstances. The Government desires that this bill shall be passed without delay, so that, as soon as all the formalities have been completed, it may appoint to this most important position an officer who may then proceed to carry out his onerous duties with proper legal authority. I, therefore, ask the Senate to agree to this bill without delay.

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